Like a found bill

Siphoning clean 2019 Pinot Noir from a barrel of settled solids. January 2021.

What I’m doing here is breaking down lees barrels. “Lees” are mostly dead yeast cells, as well as tannins that bound up and dropped out of the wine. At the end of last year when the Pinot Noir came out of barrel for bottling, I left the last 1 to 1.5 gallons at the bottom of each barrel, where all the solids had settled out of the wine. Instead of pouring that thick liquid down the drain right away, we consolidated it into one barrel and a couple kegs, and let it settle out again. Now, I’m essentially racking (or decanting) wine off the top. The wine at the top is clean, and what’s left at the bottom, we’ll throw out.

We do this little task because there’s wine to be recovered, and all wine is valuable. It’s like a found bill that you pull out of your jeans in the laundry; we don’t need this wine, it’s not really accounted for, but you don’t want to throw away viable wine. This will probably become topping wine (see my “Most Frequent Task” post), and a little could be used for blending. I’ll recover about 30 gallons out of the 60 I’m working with.  My tools are argon gas, a hose for siphoning, and old-fashioned suction to get it going.

Gravity is our friend: I elevate the barrel with a forklift, and use suction to get the wine moving from barrel to keg. I let a couple small glugs of lees go in also, which will help with the aging of this wine.

All the available wine has been recovered, so I turn the barrel over. 

What’s left goes down the drain.

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