Microbial Currents

(Above: A botte grande at the cellar of a Barolo producer I visited in Serralunga this past Spring)

So I had an interesting conversation with a winemaker acquaintance today. He’s recently started to use a few large oak casks (foudre in French, botti grande in Italian; what Barolo is traditionally aged in, for instance) at his winery and he’s most pleased with the results. These casks aren’t as common in California wineries as, say, small barriques, but nevertheless they are being used here and there (tonneaux, which are barrels that are larger than barriques but much smaller than foudres, are far more common). I like them for much the same reason as many winemakers: they allow for the benefits of oak aging (subtle oxygenation, etc) without imparting too much the flavors and aspects of the wood itself.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing this post. What got me thinking during our conversation was when this winemaker told me that he prefers the larger casks because, as he understood it, the greater volume of liquid allows for better mixing of the wine within–a fuller interaction of the microbes, yeasts, etc, is allowed to take place via the currents created during fermentation. Smaller barrels, by virtue of their tighter space and lesser volume, do not allow for such microbial currents to develop. Now I don’t remember AP chemistry all that much (and what I learned of fermentation in high school, I applied towards brewing beer), but nevertheless this seems to make some sense to me.

Furthermore, I began to speculate whether or not this large vessel was affected at all by the moon’s gravitational pull. And why not? Far whackier things, I must remind myself, have been going on in the Bay Area recently…

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2 thoughts on “Microbial Currents

  1. Really enjoy your writings. Its my canary in the mineshaft viewpoint that winemakers should return to terroir and the fourdes method on vinification. We have traded patience for UC Davis/chemical mentality. Winemakers have a great opportunity to lead the way with integrity in agriculture.

  2. Hi Richard,

    Forgive for my tardy response. Yes, I’m a big fan of wooden uprights and large casks. Perhaps we’ll see something of a return to them from winemakers who, faced with expensive European barriques and a weak dollar, but who also can’t bring themselves to use oak alternatives, opt for the larger vessels as a cost-savings option.

    Thanks for the comment!

    – wolfgang

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