A Winemaker's Dilemma
Add a little yeast to some grape juice, allow the yeast to convert the grape sugar into alcohol, and you have wine. Nothing to it. Now all that needs to be done is clarify the wine to the satisfaction of the consumer and put it in a bottle. Ahhhhh… There is the problem, there is where a winemaker is called upon to make decisions and take risks that may ruin the wine.
The problem is that the American consumer is fussy in that we do not like to see “foreign objects” in our food. We want everything nice and clean and sparkling - no haze, no cloudiness, and no sediment. Unfortunately, every time that we take something bad out of the wine we take something good out as well.
Once a wine has completed the fermentation, it is the job of the winemaker to render the new wine stable and clear with a minimum loss of flavor and aroma. The arsenal of tools available to accomplish this feat is somewhat limited and these tools fall into two categories: The first category includes filters that literally strain the foreign objects out when the wine is passed through some kind of strainer device. The second category is called “fining”, which involves adding an insoluble substance to the wine which attracts the foreign particle to itself (like iron filings to a magnet) and then the whole mess either settles out or is filtered out. The winemaker must analyze the problem and then choose the treatment that will accomplish the goal while doing the least damage to the wine.
When removing a simple haze, filtration is usually the first choice. Filtration damages the wine the least while doing the most to improve clarity. Some winemakers try to avoid filtration because they claim that a filter will strip some body (texture) and aroma from the wine. While that is definitely the case immediately after a filtration, numerous controlled studies have shown that a filtered wine will recover in 30 days or less, and blind taste tests of filtered vs. unfiltered wines have revealed no difference once the filtered wine has been allowed to recover. Most winemakers will agree that the negative effects of filtration are minimal and the benefits of a clear, haze-free wine far outweigh the very slight chance of degradation resulting from a filtration. So filtration is a pretty easy decision and is almost universally employed by winemakers around the world.
But the most insidious and difficult problems are the ones that cannot be seen and/or show up after the wine is bottled. Perhaps the most problematic is the difficulty associated with proteins in wine. There are soluble proteins that are found in grape juice and ultimately end up in the bottled wine. These grape proteins are similar in nature to egg albumin (egg white) in that they are initially clear and when dissolved in a wine are undetectable. But like albumin, when exposed to heat the protein molecules change their structure and become insoluble – egg albumin turns white and solidifies, and grape proteins form a haze that makes the wine look “dirty”. In the case of the grape proteins, this can happen after the bottled wine is exposed to the hot trunk of a car or stored in a hot warehouse. All of a sudden a clear wine develops a haze and becomes unsaleable; and while there is no change in the taste or aroma, the wine becomes unacceptable to the consumer.
Fortunately, there are easy tests that can be used to predict whether a wine is likely to experience “protein instability” so that a winemaker can take corrective action before the wine is bottled. If a potential protein problem is detected, the only tool available to a winemaker to eliminate the problem is the use of a fining agent, namely bentonite, which is a special clay used specifically for this problem.
The problems associated with “protein instability” vary by grape variety and vary with the year. Varieties that are prone to protein instability are Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat, with lesser problems associated with Riesling and Pinot Grigio. For some reason, 2013 was unusually problematic and we detected a potential problem in the Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat wines.
Since the addition of bentonite also strips body and aroma, the next step was to determine the least amount of bentonite that must be added to correct the problem. That was done as a series of lab trials using various rates of bentonite, followed by the stability test and a taste test of each of the treated wines. While there was a reduction in the potential for protein instability with each increase in bentonite, there was also a noticeable reduction in wine body and aroma with each incremental addition of the bentonite. A total elimination of the risk of protein instability was also associated with a severe loss of aroma and body – the wine became quite neutral. Unfortunately, unlike filtration, there is no recovery from these changes – bentonite fining damage is permanent.
So, the winemaker is caught in a dilemma, how much damage is acceptable vs. how much risk of protein instability do we want to take? There is no win-win. Unfortunately, the winemaker does not know if he made a correct choice until the last bottle is opened and consumed. If nobody reported a haze and nobody complained of a “watery” wine, the choice was correct. Did we make the right choice? Only time will tell.
Some people like to go to casino to experience risk, a winemaker just gets up in the morning and goes to work.
We have been fielding tons of questions about how the grapevines are fairing in this unusually harsh winter. Veteran Fennville locals describe this as the most intense weather since 1978...and it's not even March! The bottom line is there will certainly be some losses. Tender plants genetically suited to Southern Europe simply don't like sub-zero temperatures. But as usual, our proximity to Lake Michigan should help mitigate what otherwise could be a complete disaster.
Since it's been so incredibly cold for so long, can Lake Michigan still be helping? In other words, is it still "The Lake Effect Everyone Loves?"
To answer that question, let's start with a bit of background...
Fenn Valley Vineyards, like most MI wineries, grow two types of grapes - Vitis vinifera (old world European) and hybrids. The second is an overarching term typically associated with a varietal created by crossing a European vine and one native to North America. One of the traits desired with hybrids is cold hardiness. So, obviously, they hold up better. That said, data we have been watching suggests healthy and properly managed vinifera can withstand temps down to about -5F before significant damage starts to occur. Thanks to the temperature moderation effect of Lake Michigan, we have only recorded one event down in that range. That said, we are expecting moderate loss even if we get back to more "normal" weather.
How does this all work? Lake Michigan is obviously an enormous body of water. During the warmer months, it collects a lot of thermal energy. And the winds in West Michigan typically flow from west to east. As the air travels over the relatively warm lake, it picks up some heat and carries it on land. That's why being only 4 miles due east of Lake Michigan is so critical. Locations even a few miles further inland will often experience colder temperatures. When it comes to raising tender grapes, even a few degrees can make all the difference.
So, back to the main question. Given the extended frigid temperatures, is Lake Michigan still able to release any heat energy? We have noticed some satellite images implying the lake is nearly frozen solid. Luckily, those images don't reflect the situation in Southwest Michigan. Our President, Doug Welsch, was flying over the lake on February 19th, 2014 and he sent me some pictures this morning. As you can clearly see on the right, the lake is anything but frozen. The picture at the bottom shows the western shoreline, and it is just as open if not more. It is very possible the lake is more frozen further north and south, but it is clearly open in our area. Also reports indicate the recent warmer weather and winds have aided in breaking up some of the ice.
While this is very good news, there are certainly other factors impacting cold hardiness of a grapevine. We can devote other posts to more detailed analysis but suffice to say overall plant health, soil, viticulture practices, etc all play important roles. And without question certain varietals are more sensitive than others. On our farm Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Gewurztraminer are the most tender. Another factor is snow. It acts as a natural insulator. Luckily, we have plenty of that! And of course there is the always tenuous spring, when we do all we can to battle against late season frosts.
The bottom line is the lake effect is still very well at work. And with colder weather once again on the horizon, we couldn't be more thankful. The snow has also provided an absolutely stunning vineyard scene. If you haven't had a chance to visit us this winter, now is a great time to come on out. And with 2013 coming in as a huge harvest across the state, it is safe to say there will be plenty of wine to drink in the coming years!
Wine labels in the United States are highly regulated - even more so than food labels. As a result they often contain confusing information for consumers. Much of what appears on the wine label is regulated by the Federal Government. In fact, each and every label is approved - even those imported from other countries. Some of the rules are so complex those of us in the wine industry struggle to keep them straight.
The label below represents a varietal wine, or a wine with the type of grape listed.
The label below represents a non-varietal wine, typically a blend of multiple types of grapes.
And lastly, the back label.
Confused yet? If you ever have a question about a wine label, don't hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help!
Putting on a new event is always full of surprises. The Vine Wine’d was no exception. Hosting a trail run for 700 people followed by a huge party was almost like cramming two events into one day. But in the end it was totally worth it. The Vine Wine’d is here to stay.
Just when we thought the surprises were done for the day a resourceful and creative runner provided one more…and what a pleasant surprise it was! Drew Holloway decided to use the inaugural 5K as the backdrop for what would turn out to be one of the most important days of his life.
You see just after the finish line Drew dropped down on one knee and asked the woman of his dreams to marry him. And she said yes!
When I heard this story, I had to know more. How did Drew choose to propose at Fenn Valley, let alone at the 5K? How did he handle the obvious logistical challenges? How was the run? Luckily someone from Fenn Valley collected his contact information and Drew has kind enough to share his incredible story.
Drew’s family has long vacationed in southwest Michigan. The Holloway’s are from middle Indiana, making it a manageable commute for family vacations. He described in vivid detail memories of days at the beach, farm markets, and the myriad activities responsible for attracting millions of people to our region each year. He went on to describe how Fenn Valley worked its way into his vacation traditions shortly after he was of legal age to drink.
As his relationship with now fiancée Breanne Talbott grew, she began to take part in family vacations and traditions, including trips to Michigan. Among many things they share a common love for local products – including wine and beer. As a result Fenn Valley became a regular stop for Drew and Breanne when they were in town.
Their relationship with running wasn't so congruent, describes Drew. It took some time for him to get the running bug, but once he did it stuck. Today Drew considers himself an avid runner, and credits Breanne with introducing him to the sport. When he decided to pop the big question a 5K at the vineyard seemed like the perfect venue to highlight and honor the relationship.
Of course, proposing while running a race isn’t exactly easy. For those who have proposed, you know it carries enough excitement (and perhaps a little stress) without the addition of a physical challenge. There are also the obvious logistical issues such as where to keep the ring.
From my limited discussions with Drew, it’s clear he is a resourceful man. I would go so far as to say the logistics were probably a welcome challenge. His original plan was to have the run of his career and finish well before his soon-to-be fiancée. He was counting on having enough time to fish the ring out of his carefully executed double pocket and be down on one knee as Breanne crossed the finish line.
Sounds perfect, right? Like any good plan, Drew’s didn’t survive reality for long. Perhaps he was a little too nervous to layer the run of his life on top of the most important question he’s ever asked? Perhaps Breanne was leveraging her running experience to concur the hilly course? Or maybe a little of both…either way Drew found Breanne right on his heels with less than a mile to go!
Rather than attempt a dead sprint followed by a harrowing ring extraction then a romantic down-on-one-knee proposal, Drew opted for a less dramatic outcome. He simply told Breanne to go on without him. She was having a great run and, like any good athlete, wasn’t about to slow down just to be nice!
After Breanne was out of sight, Drew stopped to get the ring ready and collect his wits. He proceeded to cross the finish line shortly after Breanne. He easily located her and dropped to one knee. From numerous reports he certainly caught her by surprise, but there wasn’t a second of hesitation as she enthusiastically agreed to marry him. Thank goodness we decided to place sparkling wine at the finish line!
Drew and Breanne are actively planning their wedding, which will also be held in southwest Michigan. In typical form, they are seeking out local vendors to provide their guests with a truly authentic Michigan experience. We are honored Fenn Valley wine will be served on such an important day.
Drew and Breanne – thank you for including us in such an important part of your life. We are truly honored, and wish you a lifetime of happiness. Cheers from Fenn Valley!
Have a crazy or interesting story involving Fenn Valley? Contact us and you just might be the subject of a future blog post.
We are about 3/4 of the way through what's proving to be a great, but challenging, harvest. Our crews have been working around the clock 7 days a week to ensure we get fruit processed efficiently in order to lock in quality that will translate into better wine down the road.
Below is an excerpt from our soon-to-be-released fall newsletter written by our President, Doug Welsch.
As the 2013 winds down, the Michigan wine industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief. Everyone that we talked to indicated that there were more grapes than normal, and that was our experience at Fenn Valley as well. Usually a large crop is difficult to ripen, but that did not appear to be the case this year. While the summer and fall were not particularly warm, there was enough sunshine to enable the vines to ripen the fruit.
As a winemaker, we noticed that overall the sugars of the white grapes were slightly above normal and the acids were noticeably below normal, even lower that the 2012 vintage, which tended to have low acid fruit. That will result in wines that are ready to drink at a younger age, as we will not have to age the wine to bring the wines into balance. While it is still too early to make a firm assessment, the flavor profiles are excellent with plenty of fruit-forward character.
Our reds will be in ample supply this year, as new vineyards come “on line” and the older vineyards produced an ample crop. In “wine speak”, the acidity is lower than normal without adversely affecting the pH, which means that the wines will be ready to drink sooner and the color will be brighter, both of which are desirable traits with our bold, fruit-forward red wines..
We are trying out a few new wines this year and bringing back a few old favorites. We are pleased to announce that our Muscat will return and that we will have Gewürztraminer again this year. The normally elusive Late Harvest Vignoles will be produced for the second year in a row this year, the first time that we had two vintages of this wine back-to-back. Due to the overwhelming favorable response this past summer, we have ramped up the production of Vino Verde to more than four times what we produced last year.
So, in spite of the fact that at first glance 2013 did not appear to be out of the ordinary, it is shaping up to be a very good year with plenty of excellent wines on tap for next summer and beyond.
If you had an opportunity to visit Fenn Valley this August, you saw acres and acres of sunflowers. Mixed in the forest of sunflower stalks was another thigh high plant covered with white blooms - buckwheat.
This buckwheat/sunflower mix is a part of our effort to prepare 15 acres of ground for future vineyard plantings. The goal is that this crop mix will crowd out the weeds and grasses that would compete with the young vineyards when we plant them in the next few years.
Like the Sudan Grass that we planted on these sites last year, the buckwheat and sunflowers will be plowed into the ground at the end of August to add organic humus to the soil and to prevent erosion during the winter and spring months.
Of all of the cover crops that we have planted, the sunflowers were certainly the most beautiful, especially during August when all of their giant yellow blossoms face east to catch the morning sun.
June 8, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of Fenn Valley Vineyards. It was on that day that the Welsch family arrived on the farm and took possession of the land now known as Fenn Valley Vineyards. What was the dream of the founder, Bill Welsch, was about to become a reality. This issue of the newsletter is dedicated to the anniversary of this beginning and the fact that “The American Dream” is very much alive and well.
Bill Welsch was bored with running a lumberyard in the suburbs of Chicago, and wanted to try his hand at farming. He had three grapevines in the backyard and had been making some pretty bad wine in the basement for a number of years. The wine industry in America was experiencing a rebirth, and wine regions were springing up all of the United States – so why not here in the Midwest? Today, we would say that Bill was experiencing a mid-life crisis. Some people buy sports cars, others move to distant parts of the country, and some start a winery in uncharted territory.
After searching Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan, a 150-acre farm having all the desirable characteristics was located near Fennville, Michigan. While the decision to start a winery may have seemed to be risky, Bill had done his homework. The chosen farm was close enough to Lake Michigan to provide the moderate winter temperatures required for wine grape growing, and far enough from it to allow the grapes to ripen in the summer. The terrain was rolling to allow for natural airflow, which would mitigate the danger of spring frosts; and the soil was deep and sandy to allow for the development of a grapevine’s root system.
Within a year another 80-acre farm adjacent to the first farms became available and was acquired, giving us 230 acres to work with. The original farms were all run down fruit farms, with Peach, Plum, Cherry, and Apple orchards that were in desperate need of attention. Bill’s son, Doug, moved onto the farm and the first summer was spent pushing out the old trees and reshaping some of the land to help control soil erosion.
The first vines were planted the following year and included an acre of Riesling and 41 acres of obscure varieties such as Baco, Aurora, Colobel, Villard, Cascade, Chelois, and DeChaunac. Many of these grapes either didn’t grow well on this site or made inferior wines, and within a few years, 18 of the original 42 acres were pulled out. Plantings continued with Gewürztraminer and later, Chardonnay, Chardonel, Chambourcin, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Grigio by the mid-to-late 1980’s.
The winery was built during the winter of 1974-5 and was initially outfitted with old dairy tanks. The 17,000 sqft building, which is filled to capacity now, was mostly empty – a great place to skateboard, ride a bike, or play basketball. Doug became the winemaker and the first wines were fruit wines, including cherry, black cherry, pear, peach, plum, and strawberry. We opened the doors and sold our first wines during the fall of 1976.
It was difficult going during those first years. The wines were good, but not great, and Michigan did not have a reputation for quality wine. Many times we heard the comment that, “I didn’t know that they made wine in Michigan”. There were a number of occasions when we asked each other whether we wanted to continue. Slowly over the years we continued to grow, but Michigan wine was still a novelty and was not taken seriously.
Then in 1991 two things changed our destiny. The television show “60 Minutes” aired a segment called “The French Paradox” and there was an influx of wineries on the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas. Prior to that, America was in the throes of a quasi-prohibitionist mentality and the per capita consumption of wine was actually decreasing. “The French Paradox” let America know that it was “OK” to drink wine, and that it might actually be a health benefit when used in moderation. And here in Michigan, the “critical mass” was being achieved as new wineries came on-line and the wine press was beginning to take notice of our fledgling industry. That, and the wines were getting better as we figured out what to grow and how to do it.
We rode this wave and by the late 1990’s were on track to becoming the largest tasting room in Michigan. We also introduced our vineyard tours at that time and had our vineyard licensed as a tasting room in 2000, allowing us to do wine tasting in the vineyard without a special permit. We outgrew the original tasting room in the early 1990’s and continued to develop new space within the winery until 1999, when we built the tasting room that we use to this day in the space that was occupied by our demonstration vineyard..
Riesling soon became “king”, with Pinot Grigio following close behind. Our first red wine was made from a grape called Chancellor that old Fenn Valley fans continue to ask us to bring back. Cabernet Franc was first made in 1998 and the first Meritage was from the 2003 vintage. Our red wines were soon to become known for their consistency and quality and soon were in short supply. And more recently, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc have been added to our lineup as we continue to evaluate new grape varieties for our cool Michigan climate. The quest for the right mix of grapes for our soil and climate continues to be a challenge and maybe the next generation will be able to narrow that search.
Today there are four generations of the Welsch family living on the Fenn Valley farm. Bill’s wife, Ruth, can still be seen working in the tasting room on busy weekends. Bill’s son, Doug, and his wife, Celita, continue to oversee the operation, while Doug’s daughter, Gwen, and her husband, Brian, learn the ropes as the next generation to head the winery. And finally, Gwen and Brian’s 1-year-old daughter, Charlotte, watches her family live out Bill’s dream. The last 40 years have been a challenging and fantastic ride that proves that “The American Dream” is alive and well in West Michigan.
We have begun the first of three years of aggressive vineyard expansion. We have planted a total of 11½ acres of vines, bringing our acreage of vineyards from 62 to 73. Our total capacity is around 90 acres. But we are conducting a mix of new planting and re-planting, so we need to plant more than 17 more acres to fill the farm.
This year we planted Chambourcin, Merlot, Chardonnay, Seyval, and ½ acre of Pinot Meunier as a trial. Pinot Meunier is a new variety for us and it will be used in our premium sparkling wine, Premier Cuvee, to add complexity and more elegance.
Planting vineyards is a very tedious process. For starters the soil must be prepared. This process varies widely depending on a number of factors, and as such is a topic for another day. Suffice to say, our new sites were ready to go for planing the first week of May.
One of the biggest challenges with vineyard planting is getting everything lined up perfectly. In some cases the plants could remain in the ground for 40 years or more, so any imperfections become semi-permanent hassles year after year. Even small variances in row spacing will cause havoc with mechanized farm equipment and add cost to the wine due to inefficiently in the vineyard.
In order to plant 11.5 acres somewhat quickly and very accurately, we threw some technology at the problem. Working with a vineyard management service we contracted a highly specialized device that uses lasers and other precise measuring equipment to plant straight rows with exact plant spacing.
The tractor and implement are very complex, with tons of macro and micro adjustments. And since it generally only gets used for a couple months a year, there was plenty of tinkering necessary to get things just right. Again, stakes are high since many of these vines could be in service longer than we are!
Plant spacing is a big factor. Different varietals, climate, trellis systems and overall viticulture practices determine how far apart the plants live. For the most part, the goal is to optimize each acre to allow the plants to ripen just the right amount of fruit, while remaining financially feasible. Consistently over or under cropping can be damaging to the vines and could impact their long term survival and productivity. And if you don't consistently get enough yield per acre the farm can quickly become a financial albatross.
It took us 3 hard days to get 11.5 acres in the ground. But compared to planting it by hand...well let's just say this blog post wouldn't be ready yet! The planting equipment was a huge help, and we will certainly plan to use something similar for any major planting in the future.
Now that the vines are planted, the next challenge is to keep them alive and weed free for the season. If needed, we will irrigate. Mature grape vines rarely, if ever, need surface water to survive. But the babies do not have developed root structures, and therefore may need surface water if we have another dry summer.
For the first year there will not be any trellis. This will be added in the fall, and from that point on the new acreage will look like a vineyard. It takes 3 years to get any crop, and it's typically around 1/2 of a normal year, so this is a very long process.
There is no question planting new vines is one of the more daunting propositions a winery faces. Aside from the financial burden (and it's insanely expensive) market preferences shift over time, and once a plant is in the ground the winery is sort of committed to that varietal for a long time. We are basing our new planting decisions on a combination of factors, including anticipated long term supply and demand. We are also finding our site to be exceptional for certain varietals which factors into the decision in a big way.
Stay tuned to the blog, our newsletters and social media for ongoing updates on the vines' progress. We will also be chronicling the 2013 vintage on our blog. And of course the best way to get a look at what we are up to is to join us for a cellar or vineyard tour!
Pre-Release Wine and Food Pairings Recipes
Thank you to all who joined us for our annual Pre-Release Wine & Food Pairings weekends. Between the pairings and the associated Winemaker's dinner over 1,000 people joined us to celebrate Michigan Wine Month.
As promised, below are links to recipes used during the pairings. If you like these, Fenn Valley publishes recipes year around and features them in our Wine & Food section of the website. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and sign up for our newsletter to stay up on all things Fenn Valley.
- Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Lemon quinoa salad with garbanzo beans, garlic, shallots and tahini
- Riesling 2012: Sweet bacon wrapped cocktail sausage with sweet chili sauce
- Late Harvest Vignoles 2012: Frog eye salad made with eggs, acini di pepe pasta, mandarin oranges, pineapple and shredded coconut
- Meritage 2011: Flourless black bean brownie made with black beans, cocoa powder, eggs and dark chocolate
- Merlot 2012: Beef and wine soup with onions, carrots, celery, roasted beef and Merlot
The Pinot Grigio 2012 was served with chicken and lemongrass "tiki stix" we procured from Gordon Food Service. We topped them with a small amount of lemon curd as a sauce.
There's no question the topic of wine and food is popular with our customers. As a result, we are expanding our wine and food offerings. Stay tune in 2013 for lots of new programs - including small plates available in the tasting room and wine and food tours. And as always, feel free to contact us with any ideas you have for making Fenn Valley an even better experience.
In commercial wine making it is critical we make wine as clear as possible. Wine is considered clear when there are no visible particles suspended in the liquid. There is also some amount of transparency, especially in white wines. Not only does this help make wine more shelf stable, consumers greatly prefer wine without any floating particulate!
Making wine clear is a very involved process. It really begins at the press before any fermentation has occurred. And then a major amount of clarification takes place immediately following fermentation when the dead yeast and other particulate (lees) settles to the bottom of the tank. We then move the wine off its lees, a process called "racking." It is the same basic procedure home wine or beer makers use as their main clarification step. The wine will often go through a few rounds of racking, moving from one tank to another throughout the cellar until it falls clear, typically in early winter here in Michigan.
At that point the winemaker can begin to assess the quality of the vintage. It is about the time when blending decisions are made...but that is a topic for another blog post. It is also when we use mother nature to put the wine through a process called cold stabilization. This was covered more extensively in a previous blog post.
Once the wine is cold stable, it generally heads in one of two directions. Wine that needs to barrel age will typically head to barrels for several months to a year (usually red wines) while the rest start marching toward the bottling line for sale later that year. Not all wineries handle it this way, but Fenn Valley tends to sell white wines the summer after they where harvested. This quick turnaround certainly keeps our cellar staff on their toes!
Before going to the bottle, wine undergoes several rounds of filtration to go from mostly clear to actually clear. The basic idea is you work the wine through increasingly finer filters. Each step removes smaller and smaller particles. We use three main types of filters to accomplish this task - DE, plate and frame and cartridge. Let's walk through each one briefly...
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters - DE is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that easily crumbles into a white powder. It is derived from fossilized remains of a certain type of algae. When it gets wet (in our case from wine) it forms a porous membrane particularly resistant to clogging up. This makes the DE filter the winemaker's tool of choice for initial filtration.
Plate and Frame Filters - In this case, paper filter pads are clamped together and wine is slowly forced through the filters to remove particulate. The filter pads themselves come in different grades, which reflects the size of the holes. The smaller the holes, the more clear the wine. However, you have to work the wine into progressively finer grades of filter, so this process can be very time consuming. Because of the time involved plate and frame filters are constantly at work in the cellar, especially this time of year.
Cartridge Filters - As a final step we use a sterile filter to remove any remaining biological agents just prior to bottling. These filters use cartridges with extremely small holes to accomplish this task. A wine that passes through a 0.45 micron filter is generally considered to be stable from a microbial perspective. A micron is a millionth of a meter, so we are talking very small holes.
Most commercial wineries use a similar set of filters to clean up their wine prior to bottling. There are other types of filters not mentioned, but generally speaking the wine goes through progressively finer filtration until it's visibly clear and unlikely to spoil.
Like any process, especially involving art such as wine, there is plenty of healthy debate about the use of filtration and the impact on wine. Some wine experts will argue wine changes for the worse as a result of filtration, especially the final polishing and sterile steps. Some commercial wineries even skip final filtration steps based on the argument it somehow degrades the product. Technically speaking the filter isn't taking out any flavor compounds. The compounds we typically associate with flavor, aroma and color are much smaller than 0.45 micron. But because the ultimate evaluation of wine is done with our senses and not a laboratory, the argument over filtration will continue into perpetuity.
At Fenn Valley we believe any possible negative impact is far outweighed by the benefits of sterile, visually appealing, wine in your glass. So we will continue to do all we can to "clean up" the wine prior to bottling.
If you want to see these filters first hand, and try the wine they are polishing up, sign up for one of our tours. For only $8 you get an hour and 45 minute tour, wine samples throughout, and a $5 coupon off the purchase of 4 or more bottles of wine. For more on our tours, head here.
So next time you are enjoying a nice, particulate-free glass of wine remember the hard work of the cellar crew to get it there. And as always, if there are topics you would like to learn more about, contact us and we will surely do our best to provide information.
Vineyard CrushA blog about growing grapes and making great wine.