"Working by Hand" (Winemaking)

Winemaking: Chardonnay At-A-Glance
Most common styles
Still, sparkling
Winemaker choices and option
Virtually all winemakers make use of available options (skin contact, malolactic fermentation, lees stirring, choice of fermentation vessel, etc.)
All options used from stainless steel, concrete, oak (barrels, vats, barriques, oak alternatives)
Aging potential
Enjoyed young, while the best bottlings have the potential to age 20-30 years
Presented solo or frequently blended with
Mostly sings solo, but blends for sparkling (usually Pinot Noir) and the rare blended still wine

Leave the fermenting wine must (grape pulp and solids) in contact with the skins during and/or after the fermentation.

What it does
It “pops” the fruit character by extracting components from the skins that make the wine very opulent and flashy. The downside is that, over time, the wines often brown and oxidize (that is, age) more quickly and can ultimately seem more like sherry than Chardonnay.

Very fashionable. Today’s orange wines, often made with Chardonnay, are a take on this choice. Whole cluster pressing, as opposed to simply pressing the berries, is sometimes employed for drainage and must clarity and can equate to a refined less bitter wine.

What it does
Proponents of wild yeast embrace the unique flavors coming from the “place,” including savory and matchstick-like aromas that many love and associate with minimal intervention. Cultivated yeasts are more predictable and can be selected/customized to contribute specific flavors and aromas.

Some winemakers blend the two- sometimes starting with native yeast and reserving the use of commercial yeast only if something does not go right (e.g. fixing a stuck fermentation). Others may create cuvées/cocktails of specific commercial yeasts to achieve a desired flavor profile, since each strain contributes something different.

The wood employed for most wine barrels, used for aging the wine or actual fermentation of the wine in the barrel. Barrel decisions include the type of wood, the amount of toast (when the staves of the barrels are bent over an open flame), size (smaller = higher ratio of wood to wine = stronger oak influence) and the age of the barrels. 

What it does

  • Buttery or butterscotch flavors that many identify with Chardonnay come not from the grape but from oak-aging.
  • Heavily toasted barrels impart more intense roasted flavors (caramel, molasses, toffee, coffee, and burnt sugar).
  • Oak bestows a waxy, velvety texture and can add a sweet buttercream flavor to the wine. 
  • New oak contributes much more flavor than older, previously used oak which, depending on the wine and the grapes, may be a better choice. 
  • Small (barrique-sized) barrel fermentation, at warmer temperatures than those in stainless steel and over shorter increments of time, also imparts a richer and smoother texture to the wine.

Today, there is a movement towards keeping the oak in check, i.e. minimizing “over-oaking,” or using no oak at all. Unoaked wines (fermented in stainless steel, concrete or other neutral vessels) are increasingly popular, allowing the “purity” of the fruit to shine through.

Converts wine's malic acid (the sharp acid found in tart green apples) into milder lactic acid (as in sour cream, yogurt, etc.).

What it does
Softens the wine's acidic edge, contributes a velvety smooth texture and can add a strong buttered-popcorn flavor. In red wines, it is mandatory for stability’s sake (few exceptions)

Vintner can decide to entirely prevent ML, e.g. in a warm vintage, or allow it to happen in a portion of the wine, later blended with the rest.

Stirring or agitating the dead yeast cells (lees). During alcoholic fermentation, as the yeast metabolizes the sugar and produces alcohol, dead yeast cells tumble slowly to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, where they can be stirred, aka bâtonnage.

What it does
Adds smooth texture (a rounder “mouthfeel”), additional toasty flavors and an extra dimension of complexity.

Considered particularly important in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. An increasingly common practice that originated in Burgundy