Neil Bernardi
August 15, 2015 | Neil Bernardi

Open Top Tanks

People always say that Pinot Noir is a challenging varietal to make into great wine. Small clusters, low yields, thin skins, propensity to rot, and an amazing capacity to reflect the site where it is grown (good or bad), support that reputation. Over the thousand plus years that Pinot Noir has been grown in Burgundy, very specific winemaking practices have arisen focused specifically on getting the best out of the chimerical Pinot grape. One such practice is the use of open top fermenting tanks. Open top tanks require that one uses hand punchdowns to push the cap back into the fermenting wine.  This is a fun process, if a little dangerous.  Some notable producers in the US and abroad actually get into the tank to do a full body punch down. Another notable impact of using open top tanks is that they can blow off significant amounts of alcohol during the fermentation, up to 1.5% by some estimations. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective and the specific lot.

I think it is interesting to note that many of the winemaking practices, techniques, and minimalist philosophy in Burgundy are products of the resources early vignerons had at their disposal. Is there anything cheaper or easier than native yeast fermentations?

Bien Nacido about a third through fermentation

(Picture: Bien Nacido about a third of the way through fermentation. Random trivia – the word fermentation is a derivation of the Latin word 'to boil'.)


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