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“All In” on Barrel Fermentation!

by Adam Fizyta | Published August 14, 2020

We are constantly looking for ways to raise the bar, to improve, or at least try something new. In 2018, my wife Vanessa and I went to Tuscany on vacation and visited a beautiful biodynamic and organic winery called Querciabella. It’s located in Greve in Chianti. Luckily, my cousin Daniela works at the winery so we got the grand tour! Wine must run through our veins, eh? Anyways, they are very well known for their Super Tuscans and their Chianti Classico. For their high end wines, they ferment their whole berries in oak barrels versus the traditional method of fermenting fruit in giant stainless steel tanks. Interesting, I thought. Never seen that before.

Remember, while most wineries age their wines in oak barrels, fermentation in an oak barrel is a completely different animal! Instead of punch downs and pump overs, they put the barrel on a special wine rack (with rollers) which allows for gentle extraction from the skins by rotating the barrel multiple times per day. We later learned that this technique is called “Vinification Integrale” and is used in France, Italy, and California for the vilification and optimization of vineyard block selections or small lots. Well, the results were stunning. We fell in love. While there are many factors that contribute to the quality of the wine, Daniela insisted that Vinification Integrale (i.e. barrel fermentation) was a difference maker, and that they swore by it. Then I thought to myself, “what if we do this at Catoctin Breeze? All of our production is focused around small lots…”

Fast forward to harvest 2018, we began to implement barrel fermentation in our cellar as an experiment. We barrel fermented one barrel of 2018 Cab Sauv, and then compared it to a traditional tank fermented 2018 Cab Sauv (same fruit by the way). The difference in taste (tasted in April 2019) was very noticeable, as the barrel fermented wine gave the wine a much more integrated feel, more body, and overall more balance. We held a barrel tasting event with our wine club comparing the two styles, and the barrel fermented was the unanimous favorite.

Both wines 2018 Nocturne and 2018 Nocturne Reserve (i.e. the barrel fermented version) came out beautifully. However, you do notice more balance, integration, and overall finesse in the barrel fermented version. We were firm believers that it worked. This young wine was drinking like it was a few years old! As a result, we plan on doing this with all of our estate Cab Franc and Syrah for the 2019 vintage, which will release in 2021!

I left wondering why more wineries do not implement barrel fermentation. I quickly discovered that not only is it very expensive (quite frankly) to implement, but it requires an incredible amount of labor to hand roll each barrel 3x per day during the entire duration of fermentation. This makes is very difficult to do on a large scale. Luckily for us, our small production allows for this to become a reality. To our knowledge, we’re the only winery in Maryland who has implemented such a program, and one of very few on the East Coast (please let me know if I’m wrong!). Nevertheless, we feel proud to be pioneers in this sense, and taking the leap in our attempt to craft something truly unique. Give it a try, and you be the judge!

PS – You can also read an article about our barrel fermentation program in the Wine Industry Network publication.

Querciabella’s barrel room

If you look closely, you can see that the barrels are on rollers here. I was in awe!

Vertical Tasting at Querciabella

Wow! Tasting a Super Tuscan from 1996. A bucket list item for sure.