"Working by Hand" (Winemaking)

Winemaking: Pinot Gris/Grigio At-A-Glance
Most common styles
Still, sweet
Winemaker choices and options
Virtually all winemakers keep intervention to a minimum, preferring the resulting wines to be all about purity of the fruit (low, if any skin contact, malolactic, etc.). Lees stirring often utilized to enhance texture
Stainless steel, concrete, large older oak vats (foudres), small oak barrels (mostly used, though a few producers espouse new oak)
Aging potential (yes/no). If “yes,” give range
Not really: 1-3 years, pedigree-dependent; consensus is to enjoy younger. Caveat: some Alsace and top-end Oregon interpretations can last for 10-15 years
Presented solo or frequently blended with
Both, but at its best as a mono-varietal.

As mentioned, Pinot Gris/Grigio often can exhibit a tinge of copper or gray color from the phenolics (tannins) in the skins. The grape’s skin tannins can leave the resulting wine susceptible to being bitter, similarly to how tannins work in most red wines -- though white wines are typically referred to as being “phenolic” rather than tannic. Pinot Gris’ potential astringency poses an obstacle for winemakers, who work hard to mitigate this challenge.

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

What it does

It “pops” the fruit character by extracting components from the skins that make the wine 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 still wine. 


Mild skin contact is often practiced with Pinot Gris but, per the above, is a balancing act. Some producers prefer a moderate amount of skin contact, leading to wines that resemble a Provençal rosé or take on a coppery hue. In northeast Italy such wines, known as ramato, are increasing in number and can have an individual appeal, with more red-fruit aromas and a grainier texture. “Orange wines” represent an extreme: here, one macerates the white grapes and ferments on the skins. Skin contact facilitates the absorption of tannins, resulting in the flavor profile of a white wine with the texture of a red, which, when handled well, is particularly well-suited for Pinot Gris. Orange wines combine old traditions with new innovations, and while made to drink upon release, can also age gracefully.

Stirring or agitation of 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 this does

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


Considered particularly important for Pinot Gris production, especially when aged in older wood, where in combination with slow breathing/micro-oxygenation, it can contribute nutty characteristics to the wine. That said, lees stirring is also done in stainless steel tanks to increase mouth volume

Some grapes, almost all white, are extremely versatile and capable of producing world-class wines ranging in style from bone dry to sparkling to intensely sweet. 

What it does

Targeting a sweetness level for the wine determines its style -- dry, off-dry, medium-sweet or sweet.


With Pinot Gris, the inherent challenge is its lack of acidity in warmer climates, so creating an off-dry or sweet wine can be particularly challenging. Given this grape’s acidity, balance is key. Acidity provides a counterpoint to sweetness and has a balancing effect on wines that are made with any measurable residual sugar. Leaving residual sugar in Pinot Gris is often done to mask inherent bitterness, often in concert with higher alcohol, which can add a delicate sweetness, further covering some bitter compounds. It also gives the mid-palate a certain weight, so it “feels” like Chardonnay to some consumers.