Once the pump is sanitized, you’re ready to blend some wine.
The barrels are sealed with rubber bungs inserted in a (about) 2” diameter hole into the barrel. I de-bung them and insert the siphon wand.
I want to get the good wine out, without sucking up the sediment at the bottom of the barrel. A remote in my right hand controls the speed of the pump and I have to hold the wand in my left moving it slowly towards the bottom of the barrel. With my left hand, I also hold a small flashlight up to a glass window on the siphon wand, which essentially allows me to spot when I’m sucking sediment. I then lower the wand to the bottom of the barrel until I hit sediment, raise it just above into the clear wine, and drain the barrel. Each one takes about 4 minutes.
So, the whole set up has the siphon wand on one end, the pump in the middle, and then the tank on the other end of the hose. After the last barrel, any excess wine in the hose is pumped into the tank, using water for back-pressure.
After drawing all 30 barrels out into the tank, I have to clean the barrels of the omnipresent accumulated sediment. The winery has another specialized tool for this, which is reminiscent of a rotary garden sprinkler, except it’s attached to a hose pumping 180-degree water and comes with a stand to hold it in the barrel.
The barrel rests on a rack and the sprayer (which bends in an “L” shape at the end) is inside, cleaning…
The barrels have to be rotated, and then then the sprayer inserted. They’re then blasted with 180. As you can see from the picture, the sediment is quite heavily pigmented. Although I didn’t get a picture of it, the sediment often comes out in the form of small chunks, which look like blobby, violet tapioca pudding. The room is redolent with wine-y smells during this process
The winery floor during racking…
As you can see, messiness abides; the red hose is for the sprinkler, the white for wine, and the black is attached to the pump remote, all sitting in a steamy puddle of dissolved sediment.
The barrels get an hour-or-two of drip drying, are rotated vertical and then centered on their racks (crucial when you’re balancing them in four-high stacks). I simply reverse the pump flow, open my tank, drain the water from the hose and start racking back into barrel. This operation is difficult as well, because it’s very easy to mistake how much wine is in the barrel, generating a wine geyser from the barrel when I’m not careful.
The easiest way to tell how much is in the barrel is by listening to the sound of the wine flowing in: the higher the pitch, the closer I am to the top. The last few inches inevitably have to be done by hand because the pump is a little too indelicate for such an operation.
Because of the volume of the sediment, nearly two barrels of the thirty are lost, but no one wanted to drink that stuff anyway. I bung the barrels and then Dreux stacks them in the cellar room to await their bottling sometime later this fall. Any partially filled barrels are topped with nitrogen and will be topped off or transferred into kegs at the next possible juncture, to avoid any oxidization.
And that, my friends, is how you rack a wine off its lees…