Winter ends next week, and the vineyard knows it. For weeks now, vines have channeled sap up from the subterranean safety of their roots and into superficially latent trunks. Grasses and flowers are growing in the rows, insects are buzzing and eating each other, birds are calling and eating as well, and our vines are eager to join the activity. Budbreak is around the corner, heralding a new year of growth.
Back at the winery, last year’s growth is ready to bottle. It waits in vessels ranging from just eight gallons to over twenty five hundred in materials as diverse as glass, clay, acacia, epoxy and oak. Fine lees, or the remnants of yeast that fermented grapes to wine lie at the bottom of their vessels like silt. The liquid harvest of yesteryear will spill gently over that layer of wetly quiet dust as vintners take it to the twenty first century’s delivery method of choice: the 750ml glass bottle.
Often, winemakers choose to move their wine off the fine lees to a fresh vessel before bottling. There, they might add some sulfites to prevent the spoilage bottling’s sudden influx of oxygen could provoke–one must remember, the wine has been sleeping peacefully through winter. They also might choose to further refine the wine by removing fine particles with protein or powdered clay as one would clarify a broth for consommé. Finally, they might pass the wine through filters–sometimes as simple and large as the mesh on a screen door, or so tiny that selected molecules (like unwanted flaws) are unable to pass through.
This is the moment of truth for a vintner. Once wine is in the bottle, they can do no more. Their year of work is reflected in the contents of each of their bottles. In the best of all possible worlds, they’ve reflected the nuances of their harvest’s place and year in the best possible light. Next month, they start again.