Whole Berry Fermentation at Avignonesi: More Fruit Flavour for Everyone
In our quest to constantly stay current and be innovative, along with our pied de cuve, this year we started our harvest by doing a small portion of our Merlot fermentation using whole berries instead of crushed berries.
In the typical wine making process, as grape clusters come into the winery, they are destemmed, and then crushed. Red grapes are left to ferment in tanks or barrels with the skins. Using whole berries in fermentation eliminates the crushing. It’s a recent trend that some wineries have been adopting. Since the beginning of the fermentation takes place inside the berry, by not crushing immediately, we hope to preserve the fresh, natural quality of fruit, delicacy of texture and capacity to age. It is a practice that respects the integrity of the grape, as they don’t go through the stress of being pressed.
Our winemaker, Ashleigh Seymour, gave us some great insight into what’s going on in our cellar, currently and for the future.
Why did we decide to use a portion of whole berry fermentation? What do you hope to accomplish?
We are constantly looking for ways to better control the extraction during fermentation - to promote the good and eliminate the bad. We are looking for a softer and more delicate extraction, with fruitier characteristics, while preserving a great structure. The bitter notes that are usually associated with skins and seeds are eliminated through this type of extraction.
What % of Merlot are we doing this for? Why are you using only a small percentage? Will you increase to more in the future?
Only for 5%-7% of our Merlot. It’s almost impossible for us to use 100% whole berries in our winery because with the pumps and gravity, it makes it extremely difficult to be able to get the grapes into the tanks without having them break or crush on the way. Also, this is the first year we try whole berry fermentation, so we have to see if the results are what we expect. One step at a time.
Do whole grapes differ greatly with fermentation compared to crushed grapes?
Yes. Whole berries ferment slower and tend to maintain lower temperatures, which potentially preserve/increase fresh fruit aromas. Using whole berries gives more control over the process, a slower release of sugar, and is a great way to build complexity with savoury and spicy notes such as vanilla, clove and cinnamon. Plus, it gives softer, smoother, more velvety tannins. The inclusion of whole berries can also assist in drainage through the cap resulting in better structural and aroma/flavour extraction without adding coarseness or bitterness.
What are some possible complications or problems that could arise?
With whole berry fermentation, you run the risk of two main problems - carbonic maceration and bitter notes from the seeds. Carbonic maceration, which is when whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing and is used for light, fruity, aromatic wines. We are avoiding this by doing regular and controlled, gentle pump-overs. As they are pumped-over, they are slowly crushed and we hopefully avoid crushing any of the seeds. We are also doing an extended maceration with the skins to keep the wine flavorful and bold, instead of too light and fruity.
How/When will you blend?
Like most of our Cru wines, we wait to blend until the very end. We already separate by parcel in the tank and then in the barrel. This gives us insight into our vineyards. Waiting till the end helps us see what quality of grape each parcel of the vineyard is able to make.
How does this fit in with our all-natural philosophy?
As we move towards a completely organic winemaking, our refining options are more limited in what we can use. We have to plan what kind of wine we make from the beginning of the season, not just as we blend. Everything has to be planned and considered, from the amount of sunshine we want, leaf cover, picking date, fermentation in the cellar, so when we are finally ready to refine and blend, we don’t need to use any additives or chemicals to change our wine. It is exactly, or as close as possible, to what we have worked for throughout the year.
We are going to try the same for a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese this year as well. Sangiovese will be difficult, as the skins are thin, but we are looking forward to the challenge.
And we are looking forward to the final results!