How to Make Pinot Noir: Fermentation, Barreling, Malolactic Conversion, Aging, Racking, & Finishing

This is the second of a two-part series on making Pinot Noir. Read Part One: Making Incredible Pinot Noir: Tips for the Micro-Winery

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One of the greatest and most challenging wines to grow in the vineyard and make in the cellar is Pinot Noir. For all its troubles, Pinot Noir can be one of the most rewarding wines to make.

Finishing Fermentation

Depending who you speak with, one method of making Pinot Noir is invariably better than another. The main idea with Pinot Noir is to retain the aromas and create a prettier wine. To me, this means using cultivated yeasts, an active nutrient regimen, lower fermentation temperatures (80-85ºF), and fewer cap manipulations.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Watching and mapping the temperature and breakdown of sugars are important parts of this process. This allows you to monitor the fermentation and react to any potential problems (excessive heat, sluggish/stuck fermentation, reduction of aromas). Ideally, you want the fermentation to stop on its own, at complete dryness – a specific gravity of about 0.9. An easy way to detect complete dryness is by using a blood sugar test. This doesn’t work for sweet wines, only wines that are close to dry.

The complete conversion of sugar to alcohol is the preferred practice. Once the wine is dry, the grapes should be pressed off and the wine settled in a full container. Limiting the amount of headspace will help to keep the wine healthy and happy. Having multiple containers is best, offering multiple options for storage. This is important. Do not sulfur the wine yet. The wine is not finished ‘fermenting’. The wine must go through another stage called malolactic conversion/fermentation (ML).

This process is very sensitive to sulfur and will not (typically) engage in the presence of sulfur. If possible, keep the native fermentation and the cultivated yeast fermentation separate once you put the wine to barrel. This will help you follow through on your experiment.