Winemakers can spend a fair amount of time racking. They do this to separate clear wine from it’s sediment (called “lees”). It’s more than just clear wine that motivates them; decaying grape, or other fruit, solids can encourage spoilage organisms and extended contact with decaying yeast can cause off flavors. So, an important rule in winemaking is avoid extended lees contact.
Except that extended contact with decaying yeast can be beneficial, providing enhanced body and mouth feel. That just goes to show you how simple, clear cut, and consistent winemaking can be 🙂 It’s really not the contradiction it seems; this is just a case of too much of a good thing can be bad for you (or your wine). Contact with “fine lees” – just yeast, none of those nasty decaying fruit solids – can be a good thing for up to six months. During that time, you’re trying to capture the benefits of Sur Lie while minimizing its adverse effects. Stirring the lees, “batonnage”, helps you do this. I give my carboys or jugs several sharp twists every week. After two or three months of this, you can cut back a little and stir monthly.
I first read about Sur Lie and Batonnage in Techniques In Home Winemaking (rev). It’s a complete book on making wine from grapes at home. From the grapes (or juice or concentrate) to bottling, with special sections on port, sparkling wine, and trouble shooting, it’s all there.
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