Punching Down

Categories: Harvest
WARNING: Muscles required.
There is a point in the wine-making process, after crush and when fermentation is just beginning, that muscles are required. Not that they aren’t required throughout the rest of the year for basically everything that is done around here (lest I am remiss)… but it is during this time that they are put to the test: can you punch down with the professionals?
Since the color and most of the flavor in red wines is derived from the skins, it is important to extract as much as possible from fermentation. The creation of CO2 during fermentation causes the skins to rise, forming a cap. The cap needs to be pushed down and broken up so that the color, flavor and tannins can be extracted by the fermenting juice. The more aggressive you are about breaking up the cap, the more wine will be extracted, dark and tannic. Other than enhancing the flavor and a great upper body workout, here are reasons to punch down:
–      During the early stages of fermentation, it helps introduce oxygen to yeast cells, helping them “kick start” fermentation
–       It helps keep harmful bacteria or mold that could ruin your wine from forming
–      It helps dissipate heat that naturally occurs during fermentation—left alone, the cap can reach high temperatures

At Two Mountain, like most wineries punching down by hand, we use what looks like a life-size potato-masher to push the cap down, break it, and submerge it again. Here, we punch-down at least twice per day (once in the morning and once before bed). Each bin gets about a week and a half of punchdowns—which, depending on when the bins come in, lasts from two to eight weeks. It is not an easy task!
If you’ve ever attempted to make a red wine at home, but the finished product lacked color, taste, or astringency, changes are your wine could have benefited from doing punch downs—something to keep in mind.