Ask the Winemaker - What is "Racking?"

By Ben Stuart, Winemaker, Burnt Bridge Cellars

Q: What is "Racking?"

A: The most simplistic definition of "racking" is the transfer of wine from one vessel to another. Or, as in our case at our small winery, moving wine from barrel to barrel. This week, we are racking all of the 2015 vintage wines. The process is fairly simple. We use something called a "bulldog" that pumps inert gas into the barrel to push the clear wine out and into a tank. We then drain all of the lees out of the barrel, clean the barrel with water, and gravity feed the wine back into the barrel. This is just about as gentle a way to rack as you can get.

Lees are all of the dead yeast cells and solids that settle out of the wine during the aging process. Sometimes, these solids can cause cloudiness and off flavors if the wine is aged on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, these solids can add beneficial flavor components to the finished wine. And this is why you see many different racking techniques at different wineries. Some places rack the wine up to five times during the aging process, and some don't rack at all.

I like to rack once, about 8 months after harvest, and then taste every barrel every month to keep tabs on the aging process over the next 14 months before bottling. At our size, at roughly 50 barrels of red wine per year, this is a good way to keep tabs on the wine. And I think it gives us the flexibility to make the best wine possible.

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