Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Collector’s Corner

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Winemaking Articles

Crafting Remarkable Reds: The Journey from Bin to Barrel

At Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, we believe that great wines are an expression of place, and that terroir (the sense of place) can only find its true voice through a process of meticulous choices. The alchemy that transforms grapes into fine wine is a combination of experience, science, instinct, and artistry. From the decision to pick a particular block to the moment new wine is transferred to our caves, every action, decision, and technique we employ is focused on a single goal: achieving the highest potential for each vintage.

As with most things at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, this story begins in the vineyard. As the summer wanes, winemaker Nicolette Pruss will begin each day by walking the rows, observing leaf color, testing berry structure, and tasting for ripeness. When optimal ripeness is achieved, a skilled crew will work quickly to remove the clusters from the vines in the cool, pre-dawn and early morning hours when flavor and acidity are at their peak. Deposited into small bins staged along the vineyard rows, this precious cargo will arrive at the appointed crush pad within hours of being picked.

Upon arrival at the winery, the grapes are loaded onto a sorting table, where imperfect clusters are removed before the fruit enters the de-stemmer/crusher. The berries are then gently shaken from the stem and lightly squeezed. The resulting "must", a combination of juice and skins, is pumped into a temperature-controlled tank where it will be carefully monitored throughout its initial fermentation. Our red wine facility houses a range of low volume tanks, allowing us to accommodate small lot fermentation ideals. (In order to achieve the highest possible quality from all varietals, we maintain separate facilities for red and white wine production.)

As hungry yeasts consume sugars, the must settles into layers and a "cap" comprised of skins rises to the top of the tank. A pump-over technique that drains liquid from the bottom and returns it over the top and through the cap is employed at regular intervals to encourage the extraction of color, flavor and tannins from the skins. The winemaker will taste daily from each tank to determine how long each lot will remain with the skins, and how best to preserve the inherent characteristics of each individual wine.

When the time is right, free-run wine is drained from the tank. The skins are then shoveled out by hand and loaded into the press where they will be gently squeezed in small, measured increments of pressure to extract "light press" and "heavy press" fluids called "fractions". The winemaker carefully tastes each pressing in sequential order, retaining those fractions that may provide additional texture and depth during the blending process that follows. The pressed skins that have been removed from the tank, now referred to as "pomace", are composted and returned to the vineyards. Having completed fermentation, the juice is allowed to settle in a tank being transferred later to another tank in a process called "racking", which serves to further separate the "lees" or spent yeast by-products from the wine. We prefer to go to barrel "clean" with our wines which we believe promotes superior barrel aging. The wine is then transported to our wine caves and placed into French oak barrels for its further evolution and development. From bin to barrel, each individual lot maintains its unique identity, allowing the winemaker to track the distinctive characteristics of the fruit of each vineyard block over time. This practice provides a rich and varied palette from which to assemble final blends of the wine that will eventually grace your table.