The wine's progress through the cellar

The wineís progress through the cellar.

A walk through Manincor, part two. Two years after the walk on the wild side, Count Michael takes his visitor on the next stage of the walk. The season is almost the same – but much else has changed.

The sun struggles as best it can and casts a beautiful melancholy light on the vineyards and lake. We say hello to the sheep that have returned from the summer pastures in the Ötz Valley. A happy mood prevails now that all are back at home.

We continue our walk where the first part ended – at the ramp leading down into the cellar. The “cellar in the vineyard”, as it has often and rightly been called since its completion, is an expression of sustainable thinking at Manincor. The underground structure offers a number of advantages: the vines benefit from the additional land, and the cellar benefits from the thermal insulation provided by the soil. The geothermal effect of the soil helps maintain a constant cellar temperature in winter, while in summer the heat is returned to the soil. A biomass plant fired with wood chips from the grounds of the estate and from the vines and apple trees provides additional heating. Manincor is an oil- and gas-free zone. Through reliance on the cycles of the moon and gravity over three storeys, filtration and pumping can largely be avoided. In the cellar, the natural cycles and powers contribute to the sparing use of energy.

Inner conviction in all our work. Temperature is a particularly critical factor in the harvest period when the grapes arrive in the cellar. In summer, when daytime highs are often above 30 °C, the grapes are picked in the morning when the air is cooler. They are placed in a cold store at a temperature of 10°C and left to wait in peace for further processing and perhaps to recover from the stresses of the harvest. Then they are brought up to the upper floor in the lift. All the other working steps in the three-storey structure are handled mainly with the help of gravity – traditional winemaking combined with modern technology.

At Manincor, inner conviction underpins all activity. Respect for nature goes without saying, and it is no exaggeration to say that the grapes are handled with velvet gloves. That starts with the harvest, where the greatest care is taken and only healthy grapes are picked. As long as the grapes are on the stem, they have a degree of protection. It is equally important to avoid damage to the grapes during transport; quality suffers from prematurely burst skins.

Back to the grapes on the upper floor: The barrels are being cleaned, using hot water alone, in readiness for the 2011 vintage. The grapes on the conveyor belt are given a final inspection by two, four or even six hands and eyes before they drop into the destemmer. From there they descend to the middle floor and are fed straight into the casks where their share of the work begins.

Fermentation begins. For red wine, fermentation is performed “on the skins”; the juices are gently released and the red colour is allowed to leach from the skins. As soon as the juice of the grapes assumes a shade of red, about ten percent is drained off to make a rosé by the name of La Rose de Manincor and placed in separate casks. This process, known as bleeding the juice (“saignée” in French) is a win-win solution: on the one hand it produces an outstanding rosé and on the other it increases the concentration of the must remaining in the cask. In the case of white wines, the juice from the crushed grapes is poured into the wooden barrels for fermentation without the skins. So now the red wine grapes are in the cask, and the temperature of the must gradually starts to rise. After three or four days, the natural wild yeasts set to work, and spontaneous fermentation begins. Count Michael is clearly fascinated by this natural process. The lovingly treated grapes are left to themselves, but nothing is left to chance.

Fermentation takes from a week to ten days. During this period the cap, i.e. the layer of skins floating on the surface, is punched down to ensure full flavour extraction. The whole thing is a fairly leisurely business. Above all, no pumps are used as that would damage the grape skins, leading to the release of more sediment and undesirable bitter agents. Following this primary fermentation, the wine is sometimes left to rest on the skins for a while before being allowed to flow, with the help of gravity, down another level.

The second round through the cellar. For the red wines, the next stage of the journey takes them to the big wooden barrels or concrete vats. There the lees, as the sediment in the wine is called, settle and the acid-softening process of malolactic fermentation begins, again spontaneously. This secondary fermentation, which normally lasts four to eight weeks, converts malic acid into gentler lactic acid – an essential step in optimising the taste of the wine. Finally the wine is drained off during a waning moon (in the conviction that cosmic cycles influence the rhythms of life on Earth) and placed in small wooden barrels, where it is left to mature for fourteen to twenty months.

In the case of the white wines and the rosé, the juice of the grapes is left to ferment in the bigger wooden barrels that hold between 500 and 3000 litres. The Moscato Giallo and La Rose de Manincor spend five months maturing on their fine lees, while the other white wines take nine months and are not ready before May.

At Manincor all the wines mature in wooden casks. Wood offers good insulation against the cold and heat, noise, vibrations and electric radiation and at the same time permits the wine to breathe. The Manincor philosophy is that the wine should remain in contact with the surrounding elements, albeit only in minimal doses. There are about 650 barrique barrels in the Manincor cellars. They are replaced at a rate of eighty per year, with thirty of them made from oak growing on the estate.

You never go through the same wine cellar twice. It is now the turn of Helmuth Zozin, an oenologist and Director of the winery, to show us his cellar. The wine’s progress through the cellar is no different on this second tour; the difference is in the way Helmuth tells it.

He speaks first about the grapes: a sensuous but sensitive fruit, and a top performer, he says, with the help of just a little fine-tuned technical support. The grapes’ capabilities are defined at the moment of harvesting; they incorporate the sun, rain, wind, soil and everything that has happened to them in the course of the year. The fermentation process amplifies this natural sensuousness so that it can be communicated in the wine – if all goes well. But you can only put in the bottle what is already there.

Respectful, gentle, subtle. As mentioned above, the key to success for the Count and the Director is the velvet gloves – and keen eyes and quick hands in the process of rejecting all substandard grapes, preferably in the vineyard. Things can go wrong where the grapes are subjected to stressful mechanisation. But, as we have seen, that is unnecessary if the grapes are harvested at the right moment and with the greatest possible care and afterwards treated as such a valuable fruit as the grape deserves – respectfully, gently, subtly.

“Subtle” is in general a word that Helmuth likes to use when speaking about the wines, their production and quality. He knows what he is doing; he is familiar with the natural processes. With calm confidence, he decides what can and should be done and when in order to make subtle wines. Like conducting an orchestra. Wines “without mere mass and cosmetics”, wines for the second moment, wines that remain a delight, with excellent length of taste.

That is how the grapes make their way through the cellar in the vineyard. Now see how the wine makes its way into your glass!