Recently we have noticed a lot more of our winemakers using whole bunch fermentation when making red wine. Basically, when using whole bunch fermentation it skips the usual first stage of red winemaking which is de-stemming the stalks from the fruit. Typically the stems can be as much as 2-5% of the fruit weight.
Once this method was considered an old fashioned technique which gave rise to more rustic wines but now there is a multitude of reasons why the winemaker would use whole bunch fermentation.
For example, popular opinion is that it can create more interesting wines with greater complexity. Today, with the reality of global warming, the stems are often riper than what they used to be so the effect is a less “green” influence on the wine.
In high acid vintages, it can be used to round things out in a wine. Not just the acidity but some report that leaving the stems on the grape can enhance the fragrance and perfume of the wine as well as adding strength and firmness and agreed silkiness to the tannins.
Interestingly, the addition of the stems can keep the temperature of the fermentation one degree lower; also allowing the yeasts to move around more easily and even effect the conversion of sugar to alcohol resulting in less alcoholic wines. The whole bunch fermentation helps the control of the ferment
‘The wines of the 1990s were the Parkerized (Robert Parker) wines,’ says Tony Jordan, referring to the move at this time in Australia to make monster wines. ‘Everyone seemed to think bigger was better and the wines seemed to be getting bigger in every way. Now there is a big step back from that. And yet if you are in a warm climate, the wines are going to be robust. That’s the terroir speaking. But you can still aim for freshness, a bit of brightness of fruit, more elegance on the palate.’ This is one of the reasons why there is so much interest in whole bunch fermentation at the moment, because it does represent a tool for making more expressive, elegant red wines, even from sites not known for this attribute.
Sue Trott’s Five Geese, ‘La Volpe’ Nero d’Avola 2014 is an excellent example to try where the method is whole bunch fermentation.