Racking, if you weren’t already aware, is transferring the wine from one container to another, generally to get the clearing wine off of the sediment. Wine is a funny thing. If you leave it on the sediment, not only will it pick up bad flavors and odors, but it will only clear so much. If you take it off the sediment, more tends to fall out and the wine gradually clears better each time you rack it. Some wines will eventually clear almost completely and some will need help. I will discuss the “help” part in a different blog.
In wineries, wine is transferred via a pump and hoses that have been sterilized prior to use. A hose is hooked up to the tank holding the wine to be transferred and the other end to the pump. Another hose is hooked up to the outlet of the pump and then to the receiving tank. Some amateurs use really small versions of this pump and hoses system, but most simply siphon the wine from one container to another.
The best winery tanks have a racking valve at the bottom of the tank and another several inches above that. In addition, they should have a door at the bottom set to the front and one to the side just above the upper racking valve. The reason for this set-up is that, when you have sediment in the tank, you can hook up to the upper racking valve and get most of the clearing wine transferred from that valve. Then, when you get down to that level, you can open the side door, which, as I mentioned, should be located just above that upper racking valve, and look in to see if there is more good wine that can be transferred. If there is, the hose that is attached to the upper racking valve can be disconnected and manually held in the side door and immersed in the wine. You can then watch the new wine being transferred and, when you see the gross lees approaching, pull the hose out so that as little as possible of that sediment gets transferred into the receiving tank. The valve and door at the bottom of the tank allow for easy cleaning, as well as red wine fermentation, which I will discuss at a later date.
So now the new wine is in a fresh, clean tank, and will wait to be racked yet again. Depending on the winemaker’s schedule, a new wine will probably be racked 3 or 4 times, about once a month, before the start of cold stabilization. As I have mentioned in a previous post, cold stabilization is the process of chilling a wine down to 30 degrees or lower for three to four weeks, to remove the tartrates, which are actually cream of tartar. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is where we get cream of tartar, which is used in baking. If we don’t do this in the winery and get rid of them, they will fall out in the bottle in the refrigerator. This generally distresses people in the United States as we expect our food products to be squeaky clean, but if you encounter them don’t worry. They don’t actually pose a problem and don’t affect the quality of the wine. In fact, in Europe these tartrates are called “wine diamonds” and wine consumers are not concerned with their presence. Europeans just let them settle to the bottom of the bottle and throw out that last ½ ounce. After the wine is “cold stable,” the first filtration will take place.
Next: The wine must be stable, even if the winemaker is not.