The Technology of Winemaking


Spring cleaning is well underway, we’re taking the cellar apart and putting it back together again. Every piece of equipment is getting scrubbed and reevaluated for its role in the winemaking process. Every wine is getting a panel of chemical analyses performed. Indispensable in this role is the use of our spectrophotometer. A “spec” is device that shines a beam of light at a specific wavelength and records how much light is absorbed after it passes through a sample. The technology is 79 years old, but its use in the wine industry is relatively recent. We can analyze a number of analytes in wine with a spec with pinpoint accuracy, but the most important are malic acid, acetic acid, and sugar. Traditional wet chemistry techniques are time consuming and not as accurate as with a spec, and having an outside laboratory perform these tests would be prohibitively expensive.

In March we will evaluate the 2018 red wines. This involves racking (decanting) wine from barrel and assembling component wines into blends. Minor adjustments to the chemistry of the wine (acidity) will be made and the wine will be pumped back to barrel. We’ll evaluate the character of the new barrels Mark bought last year and portion them out based on the blends we make. There are new French, Hungarian, and Virginia oak barrels that impart tannin and subtle oak character to the wine. We are particularly fond of Virginia oak barrels. The Norton Barrel Select bottling is made with wine aged in new Virginia oak barrels.

As for the white wines, we’re now at a point where we can wrap our heads around the character of the new vintage wines. The 2018 Albariño is showing particularly well. Abariño ripens early, meaning that in a wet, and rot-prone vintage it will be less affected than later ripening varieties. The 2018 vintage Albariño is showing well defined varietal character with crisp acidity. It’s one of my favorite varieties to grow and make wine with. It responds well to various cellar techniques (Vino Verde style or barrel aging), its fruit-forward character is popular with customers, and it goes well with a wide range of food.