Quick Take:

In the second installment of this week’s column, Lookout wine expert Laurie Love reveals her pick for Wine of the Week and goes behind the scenes of the winemaking process in her Wine 101 lesson.

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of this week’s Laurie Love on Wine column, covering her Wine of the Week pick and her Wine 101 lesson. Click here for Part 1, with the latest wine news and upcoming wine events.

Welcome to Laurie Love on Wine! I am Laurie Love, a professional wine writer and educator based in Santa Cruz. I am thrilled to be Lookout’s new wine correspondent, and look forward to sharing my wine passion, knowledge, and experience with Lookout readers. Follow me on my wine blog, Laurie Loves Wine, and on Instagram at LaurieLoveOnWine. I love email from readers! Stay in touch: Email me wine news, new wine releases, wine events or questions you have about wine at laurie@lookoutlocal.com. Join me as we journey together through the wonderful world of wine.


Each column, I will write about a particular wine that I’m enjoying now. The Wine of the Week this week is …

2021 Windy Oaks Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir ($45)

Spencer Schultze, winemaker and son of founders Judy and Jim Schultze, poured this memorable Windy Oaks Estate pinot noir for me at the Uncork Corralitos event. Cuvée is the French word for blend, and in this case, refers to this wine being a blend of several different pinot noir clones. Schultze explained that “the wine was fermented with 50% native wild yeast and 50% whole cluster” rather than fermenting with destemmed individual berries. It was then aged 18 months in 100% French oak with 25% of that being new French oak, which imparts more oak aromas and flavors into the wine than used oak barrels.

Schultze said that Windy Oaks was preparing to harvest pinot noir from its estate the week of Oct. 23, later than most years, as we have heard from other winemakers this season. “The longer hang time has allowed the fruit to develop full physiological ripeness, which means the stems and seeds are ripe, and that enables us to use whole-cluster fermentation for our wines,” he said.

The wine had a lovely expression of pinot noir fruit with beautiful floral and fruit aromas (rose, cherry, raspberry) and firm yet fine grain tannins on the palate with a fresh acidity on the finish. The wine is fresh with bright fruit qualities one typically finds with whole-cluster wines but also brings some significant tannin expression from the stem inclusion and oak contact. This is an elegant wine that will only improve with age. Pair it with local wild mushroom dishes, beef stew or a cheese and charcuterie board. Purchase the wine directly from Windy Oaks at its estate winery (550 Hazel Dell Rd. in Corralitos) or at one of its tasting rooms (Lincoln Street between Ocean and 6th in Carmel-by-the-Sea and 19 E. Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel Valley).

WINE 101: Fermentation

Who doesn’t love a wine class? In each column, I’ll give a mini-lesson on wine. Whether you’re new to wine or a seasoned expert, I hope to offer you something new to learn in the wide and wild world of wine. Email me and let me know what you want to learn about.

Merlot must in a fermentation bin at Bottle Jack Winery.
Merlot must in a fermentation bin at Bottle Jack Winery. Credit: Laurie Love / Lookout Santa Cruz

In my previous column, I talked about what happens in the winery when harvested grapes arrive, including sorting, destemming, and crushing. Fermentation typically happens right after those steps, once the grapes have made their way into a fermentation vessel, at which point the mass is called “must.” While sorting, destemming and crushing are all essentially optional choices made by the winemaker, all wines undergo fermentation. The topic of fermentation is huge, but for our purposes, I will give you just the basics. And since it is a scientific process, it can be a bit geeky, so bear with me as we wade into it.

Fermentation is a key step in winemaking that converts grapes into wine. In very basic terms, fermentation is the scientific process of yeast converting the sugars in grapes into alcohol while releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) and heat. Choice of yeast is up to the winemaker: either wild or commercial. Wild yeast (or native yeast) is ambient yeast that comes in on the grapes or is present in the winery. Commercial yeast is purchased and added to the must by the winemaker. Either way, once the yeast converts all sugars to alcohol, the must is now called wine.

Getting the yeast to start eating the sugars and continue doing so straight through until the sugars have been converted is crucial. The longer it takes for the yeast to start and stay working, the more risk there is of off-aromas and flavors resulting from bacteria, oxidation, spoilage and other issues. There are more risks associated with using wild yeast than commercial, because the winemaker has less control over fermentation. On the other hand, commercial yeasts give the winemaker more control over when the ferment starts and how long it lasts, and they can also be selected to give the wine certain flavors and aromas.

Grapes being cleaned out of a steel fermentation tank for pressing at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.
Grapes being cleaned out of a steel fermentation tank for pressing at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Fermentation vessels can be just about anything: stainless steel, wood barrels (usually oak), concrete, food-grade plastic, clay amphorae, glass. The most widely used are stainless steel tanks (typically used for white and rosé wine) and oak barrels (often used for red wine).

Since fermentation creates heat, it’s important to control the temperature of fermentation so it doesn’t run too hot, leading to oxidation and spoilage issues. This is especially true for white wines. Typically, aromatic white wines (such as riesling or sauvignon blanc) are fermented in a temperature-controlled stainless steel tank to preserve their fruit and floral qualities. White wines are fermented at cooler temperatures (from 50º F and up) while red wines ferment warmer (around 80º to 90º F and up). The lower the temperature, the slower the ferment, and vice versa.

Fermentation also creates carbon dioxide. For still wines, the CO2 is allowed to release into the atmosphere. However, for sparkling wines, in a very general sense, winemakers can capture the CO2 byproduct into the wine, and this creates the bubbles (also known as carbonation). When this happens in the winemaking process depends on what type of sparkling wine is being made. For example, for traditional method sparkling production, two separate fermentations happen: one to make the base wine as usual, and one to create bubbles in the wine after it’s bottled.

Merlot being punched down by hand at Bottle Jack Winery.
Merlot being punched down by hand at Bottle Jack Winery. Credit: Laurie Love / Lookout Santa Cruz

As red wine is fermenting, CO2 also causes the grape pulp and skins to rise to the top of the vat, forming a cap. Keeping the pulp and skins stirred into the must is important for extracting color, flavor and tannin into the wine, and to keep the cap moist. “Cap management”, a term that refers to keeping the cap in contact with the fermenting wine solution so all the good stuff is extracted, is also super important to minimize oxygen contact during fermentation. Winemakers use a few different techniques to do this, including punching down and pumping over. Punch-downs, typically done manually with a tool that looks like a large potato masher, are used mostly for thin-skin grape varieties like pinot noir. The uber-traditional method of stomping grapes by foot is another way of doing this. Pump-overs, when juice is drawn from the bottom of a fermenting tank and pumped back over the top of it, are common with thick-skin varieties like cabernet sauvignon.

Laurie Dahl of Big Basin Vineyards has the fun job of stomping the grapes.
Laurie Dahl of Big Basin Vineyards has the fun job of stomping the grapes. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Fermentation can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks depending on many factors (grape varietal, style of wine, fermentation temperature, cellar temperature, type of yeast, etc.). After fermentation, red wine will be pressed off its skins then rest during a settling and aging period. Remember from my previous column that white wine is pressed before fermentation, and red wine is pressed after.

Most wineries in our area have lots of fermenting wine in their cellars right now. If you’re interested in seeing fermentation in action, reach out to your favorite winery and ask to have a look.

Until next time … cheers!

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Follow Laurie Love on: Instagram. Laurie Love is a professional wine educator and writer based in Santa Cruz, where she has lived for 34 years. She shares her wine passion, knowledge and experience with...