Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc

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Oddities 2

En francais

This photograph was taken on September 5th, so fairly early in the period of the vendanges. It shows white wine being run off its lees after being in tank.

Regular readers will recall that to make a white wine the grapes are usually pressed immediately after picking. The resulting juice heads to tank and ferments. The juice will contain some pulp and various natural substances from the skins such as the yeasts which kick start the fermentation process. As it continues the exhausted and dead yeast cells fall down into the bottom of the tank, these are the lees.

You can see the wine still fermenting because of all the bubbles in the container as it is run off the tank. Leaving the wine on the lees too long can be self defeating, risking bacterial contamination. However, the lees can add a creamy depth to the wine so it is matter of judgement as to how long to leave the wine in contact with them.

I love the golden colour in the photo, offering promise and hope to the wine which will follow. Having tasted the wine I know that the promise will be fulfilled.

Red wines spend time on their skins to extract colour and flavour from them during fermentation. The wine is run off and the skins removed when the winemaker decides. In the photo the skins are being removed by Jeff. However, after that the process is the same. There will be lees in the runoff wine and they will settle as did the white wine lees.

The sludge with lees and some juice




Soutirage is known as racking in English. After the wine has fermented the tank or barrel will contain the lees (dead yeast cells) and sediment. The yeast fermented the wine, lees have added flavour and some antibacterial properties but if left in contact with the wine they will start to add off flavours, cloud the wine and generally hinder the final wine. The process is carried out as gently as possible, using gravity rather than electrical pumps.

So on April 6th Jeff messaged me to say that the day had arrived to carry out soutirage of the wine I made for my 100th blog post and the vendanges tardives Grenache we picked on the last day of the vendanges.

We started with the Grenache. A tube was placed into the stainless steel tank, suction applied and the wine flowed gently into large 15l bottles. Jeff chose clear bottles so that he can watch the progress of the wines. They will be stored in his cellar in the dark so no problems from light damage. The Grenache still contained some residual sugar, was sweet, fresh and clean.

It was appropriate that we also racked the maceration white wine. Cameron had taken the lead on this wine and he was here after attending La Remise, the natural wine salon in Arles, I’ll be writing about soon. The wine was fresh, lots of fruit and also a light texture from the 4 month maceration. Very good.

And then the 3 Grenaches wine I took charge of. Most of this has been aged in barrels so the soutirage ended with them being emptied of their sediment.

There wasn’t that much sediment as the small vertical press I used controlled what entered the barrels, ie mainly juice. Naturally we had to top up those barrels after soutirage to replace the volume taken away. And now they continue their gentle ageing. I am very happy with the progress of the Grenaches, again more soon.



Traffic light wines

A fascinating day, another new process in winemaking for me to learn.