Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Letters on the Culture of the Vine Part 9: Preparation of Wine

Letter XVI – Secondary Fermentation – Management of the Wine in the Cellar

The process of the Secondary Fermentation, is of very various duration; in some of the stronger wines, it may continue for many years, in those of a lighter description, it may terminate in a few months, or even weeks. As a general rule, it may be observed, that so long as sugar remains in the wine, undecomposed, this gentle fermentation will continue, and until it terminates by the conversion of the whole of the sugar into spirit, the acetous fermentation cannot commence. But it should be remembered, that when little sugar and much ferment was originally present in the must, the whole, or nearly the whole, of the former will probably have been decomposed by the violent fermentation, which may, in this case, almost immediately pass into the acetous stage. Hence the importance of perfect maturity in the grapes; for the riper they are, the more will the ratio between the sugar and the ferment be altered, by the increase of the former, at the expense of the latter. Having made these general observations upon the process, I shall now proceed to describe the management of the wine in the cellar during its continuance.

After a period varying according to circumstances from a few days, to several weeks, the new wine will have become sufficiently still to permit the bungs to be inserted in their proper position, without risk of bursting the casks; but in the first instance, without being driven with the mallet. At first they should be taken out every day, and the space left void by the subsiding or the evaporation of the wine be replenished. Gradually the rate of the diminution decreases, and the filling up will require to be less frequently performed, viz., every second day, once a week, once a fortnight, &c., driving the bungs harder by degrees, until they can safely be made quite tight. Great care should be taken to keep the casks constantly full, but if through neglect or accident, a void of an inch or two should have existed unobserved for several days, then, previously to its being filled up, it will be prudent to try if a piece of paper lighted, will burn in the void so left. If, as most probably will be the case, it will not, the acid air should be expelled by blowing with a pair of common bellows until the lighted paper will burn. Then introduce a square inch of sulphur match, and when this has burnt out, let the cask be immediately filled. Should small specks of a greenish white substance, usually termed “motheriness,” appear on the surface of the wine, they must be removed by filling up the cask repeatedly; pressing against the head to make it over?ow, and tapping frequently, all round the hung with a mallet, to detach the portions adhering to the inside of the staves. This motheriness is considered to be a bad symptom, and is frequently the fore-runner of the acetous degeneration, unless means be taken to check it. The period during which the secondary, but still perceptible, fermentation continues, varies exceedingly, as I have before observed. Some times it will cease for a few days, and then re-commence, until it has ceased altogether, which may be known by the wine beginning to become transparent. The casks should be frequently examined all round, lest a leakage should have established itself; this examination ought, in fact, to be made everyday, for the very best coopering is required to render casks containing new wine, perfectly staunch. Ordinary leaks may generally be stopped by rubbing on a mixture of mutton suet and whitening; and if serious, by then covering the spot with a small thin plate of lead, tin, or zinc, neatly secured with small tacks. Should this prove ineffectual, no time should be lost in transferring the wine into a fresh cask. Each time the cask is filled up, the bung-cloths should be changed. It is most convenient to have a double set, that one set may be washed in lime-water, to destroy the acid, whilst the other is in use. The operation of filling up the casks, is rendered much less troublesome by the use of the long taper bungs, before described; the wine is much less disturbed in taking them out, besides the saving in the quantity necessary for replenishing, and bung cloths are not requisite to make them fill up perfectly the opening of the bung.

By mid-winter, or shortly after, supposing the season for ripening the grapes to have been favorable, and the vinification, or wine making, properly conducted, the wine will have deposited its gross lees. If held up at this time in a wine glass before the eye, it will in the daylight, probably appear tolerably bright, although it will certainly appear more or less milky or turbid, if subjected to the severe test of being held before the flame of a candle, in a dark place. The sooner it is now racked off into clean casks the better; on no account would I advise the process to be deferred after the commencement of August. In almost all cases, whether the wine be bright or not, it will be prudent to draw it off by this period from the lees it has deposited; for if longer deferred, there is danger that the latter, by a tendency in the wine to ferment, to be described presently, may be again blended with the wine, which, if not of strong body, may by means of this accident, run into the acetous fermentation. A few clean casks, of suitable sizes, to commence with, should be provided, and when these are filled, the casks which have been emptied, having been well cleansed, may be used again. The process of cleansing and preparing casks for use, I have before described. To prevent future repetition, I now, again observe, that on no account should any be used which have not been made perfectly pure; that if recently rinsed with water, it is proper to pass through them carefully, a small quantity, either of good brandy, or of wine boiling hot; and then, just as they are about to be filled, to burn in them from 4 to 6 square inches of sulphur match per 100 gallons; but if brandy has been used in rinsing, it should be carefully drained off, lest in using the match, it should inflame and blow out the heads of the casks. If the wine be in a good state for racking, the lees will always be contained in the space below the plug, which I have before mentioned as being proper to have inserted about two inches from the lower chime: and, even when drawn off to this point, several gallons additional of clear wine may generally be obtained, by raising the cask gently and carefully from behind. When much wine is racked at the same time, it is best to put all the lees (which at the first racking, amount usually to from 4 to 8 gallons per 100) together into the same cask, and then, in a few weeks, to draw off from it the clear wine, which will probably amount to more than half the gross bulk. The wine so obtained, is rarely so good in quality, and if possible to avoid it, should not be mixed with the rest. I am informed that on the Rhine it is customary to strain the lees carefully through linen bags, and that the clear wine so obtained is termed the “mother wine,” and carefully added to the rest of the clear wine, upon which, it is said, gradually to produce very beneficial effects

The process of racking off is greatly facilitated by the use of a simple apparatus. It consists of a bellows of particular construction, so contrived that the nozzle, which is fixed on at right angles to the rest of the instrument, can be made to fit tight into the bung of any cask; and of a leather hose, comprising several lengths easily joined together if required. Each end of the hose is provided with wooden tubes, the one to drive into the aperture above mentioned in the full cask, the other to fit on to the end of a tap or cock, which is driven into a similar aperture in the empty one; the latter being first fixed. Now, supposing the empty cask to be mounted upon the proper supports, on a level with the full one, as soon as the cock is turned, the wine flows through the tube of communication thus formed, until it attains the same level in both. But to complete the operation, whilst the wine is thus flowing from one cask to the other, the bung of the one to be emptied is taken out, and the nozzle of the bellows firmly driven in its place. This instrument is so contrived as to force at every stroke, several gallons of air into the cask, and to prevent its return, so that by working it quite gently for a few minutes, the air within the cask becomes so much compressed, as, by its elastic force, to drive out the whole of the remaining wine down to the level of the tube of communication. The moment it reaches this, the sound of the air rushing with violence into the hose is heard, and the cock at the other end should be turned. The channel of communication being thus stopped, the end of the hose is removed from the cask, and the clear wine remaining in it, and the cask, poured off into a bucket, and from it into the cask which is being filled. The cock is next taken out of the latter, and a plug, previously prepared, put into its place. With a little practice, the mere transferring of the clear wine from one large cask to another, can be performed by one man, without the slightest waste, in 15 or 20 minutes, thus enabling him, supposing clean casks are supplied as he requires them, to rack off from 15 to 20 in a day. In the ordinary mode two men will be fully employed in racking off 8 or 9 such casks, besides the waste which will take place to a greater or less extent. But the bellows and hose are possessed of another very important advantage. By means of their use, the contents of one cask are drawn of into another, without being exposed to the atmosphere, and consequently without the loss of aroma and strength which must take place when the wine dashes with violence into a bucket, and is then poured through a funnel into another cask. Besides this, there is much less risk of disturbing the lees when the bellows are used, an accident, which not unfrequently takes place by the other method. I have used the apparatus just described for the last twelve months, and it has answered every expectation I had previously formed of it. I, therefore, strongly recommend it for general adoption amongst the makers of wine, the more so, because it can be made in the colony, at moderate cost, and the model can be easily given. As the old plan of racking will, however, still in many cases require to be adopted, I may mention that for this purpose the aperture to draw from, should not exceed 3/4 to 7/8 inch diameter, especially if the cask be large, unless a cock or tap, made expressly for the purpose, be used. It should be provided with a good plug of hard wood, shaped so as to fit the hand readily, and be easily put in or removed. A shallow tub should be placed under the cask, to catch any wine which may drop; and if two persons are employed, it is most convenient to have three light buckets to draw off in, so that the plug once taken out, need not be put in again until the cask is drawn off, an empty bucket being thus constantly ready to put under the spout as the full one is removed. In this manner less wine will be spilt than when the plug is frequently taken out and replaced. Drawing off by means of a common cock is certainly less likely to create waste, but it is a very tedious process, unless one of 1 ¼ to l ½ inch bore be obtained for the express purpose. In racking off, the convenience of being well supplied with casks of various sizes will soon be experienced, especially, if there are several kinds of wine. A small portion of each sort should be reserved in bottles or small kegs for the purpose of filling up, an operation which will still require to be performed every month or six weeks.

After the first racking, the wine, however bright it may appear, has still a vast quantity of extraneous matter to deposit, part of which, such as the tartar, frequently remains long in a state of absolute solution. In some wines, often the very best, this gradual deposition continues for many years, and it is not until it has in a great measure ceased, that those of a generous nature can be considered to be sufficiently mellowed and ripened for use. The beginner will find it difficult to credit the vast change which the process of mellowing in the cask at length effects. All are probably aware that new wine, such as it is at the termination of the violent fermentation, though highly intoxicating from the quantity of fixed air it contains, is, for the most part, absolutely nauseous to the taste. But it may not be so generally known, that at six and twelve months old, and even when it has been two or three years in the cask, little indication is frequently given of the high flavour and quality a fine wine will acquire by keeping, and proper treatment in wood. Without experience in the particular sort of wine, the very best judges may be at fault. Some of the most delicate growths of Burgundy are ripe in their first year, and must be consumed before they reach a second. The rich generous wines of Rousillon, on the other hand, require to be kept 15 or 20 years in the cask, before their good qualities are developed. But, although time is, in the majority of cases, requisite to ripen a wine for use, it is generally admitted that the process may be greatly modified by the treatment it is subjected to. With this view, to all wines, except those made up by being highly brandied for the English market, the most perfect repose in the cellar is desirable. They should be kept at a moderate and equable temperature, and be as little as possible subjected to any sudden shaking or vibration. Every precaution should, therefore, be observed to secure the casks firmly upon their supports, which cannot be too solid; and in filling them up, not to disturb their contents unnecessarily. Also, to exclude the external air as much as possible from the cellar, preserving the temperature as nearly at 55 degrees to 60 degrees, as circumstances will permit. The casks should frequently be examined all round, to detect leaks, and such measures taken to stop them, as may be necessary. A cask of good wine may be quite spoiled, by means of a leak, in a week or two; and there are certain seasons of the year, at which they are much more likely to occur than others; these I shall now proceed to mention.

There are three periods, during which the wine, until it has become thoroughly matured, has a tendency to ferment, or to become turbid. During these, it ought never to be bottled, nor racked off, if it can be avoided. These periods are the season at which the sap begins to rise in the vine; the period of its flowering; and when its fruit begins to color, or to swell to maturity. I do not pretend to explain the causes of this very singular fact. All the European writers, on the subject, whose works I have read, are agreed as to its existence, and their testimony has seemed to me to be amply confirmed by my own observations in the colony. It will be prudent, therefore, for two or three weeks during these periods, to examine the wine daily, and should there be any effervescence, to give vent to the fixed air by means of a spile hole near the bung. I have known a cask to burst its hoops at the first of these periods, for want of such a vent. Should the effervescence be considerable, and little or no remains of sweetness in the wine be perceptible to the taste, so as to indicate danger of the commencement of the acetous fermentation, it should be racked into a clean cask, in which double allowance of sulphur match should be previously burnt. It may even be proper to burn several other matches in the cask, while it is being filled and to roll it well about, to impregnate the wine thoroughly with the fumes. I am not aware of any other means, within reach, by which this tendency to ferment may be effectually checked, and I can testify, that if properly made use of, they will prove effectual, without imparting any ultimate ill flavour to the wine. The sulphate of potash has been highly recommended for the same purpose, but it is not to be procured here, and is, I believe, rarely manufactured in Europe. Pulverised animal charcoal will, to a certain extent, produce the same effect, but care must be taken to have it thoroughly carbonized, and to use it sparingly, because it will deprive all wines of their color, and, in fact, if used abundantly, render them as colorless as water. I prefer to use the sulphur match freely; I have never experienced the slightest ill consequence from so using it, whenever occasion seemed to require, although I have, at the same time, always been particular in having the casks previously rinsed out with boiling wine, in the manner before described. Should there be any considerable degree of sweetness remaining in the wine, when it commences to ferment, as above described, I should not advise any steps to be taken to check it, at all events, until this sweetness has disappeared. It will, in such case, probably cease of its own accord, and shortly afterwards, become bright and greatly improved in quality. Care must be taken, however, to give vent to the fixed air in the cask as required, lest the hoops should be burst by its expansive force.

After the second of the two seasons above mentioned, (that is, the flowering of the vines,) is over, an interval occurs previous to the coloring of the grapes, which is usually very suitable for the second racking. But previous to commencing this, it will, in the generality of instances, be proper to accelerate the precipitation of the lees, and render the wine more bright by artificial fining. For red wines, the whites of perfectly fresh laid eggs, at the rate of 12 to 14 per cask of 100 gallons, and well beat up with a portion of the wine, to be drawn from the cask for the purpose, will answer perfectly well. In putting them into the cask, the bung being taken out, a rotatory motion should be given to its contents, by introducing a clean round stick, having four or five inches of its lower end split up into four: the different portions being kept apart by slips of wood thrust in between them, and firmly secured by twine. By moving this rapidly round for a few seconds, the desired motion is given, when the finings should be immediately poured in, and the agitation of the wine continued for four or five minutes longer. The finings will by this time have become thoroughly incorporated with it, but it is better not to bung the cask up tightly for a few hours, or even until the next day. After this, it should be kept as still as possible, until the expiration of two or three weeks, by which time the finings will, in clear weather, most probably have settled to the bottom, carrying down with them a great part of the impurities which the wine may have contained. When this is accomplished, the sooner it is racked off into a clean cask the better. Such is the mode commonly adopted for fining red wines. It is customary to repeat the process every six months, until the wine becomes perfectly “candle bright”, that is, until it will bear the test of being held up in a clear wine glass, before the flame of a candle in a dark place, without discovering the slightest impurity, and shewing the flame of the candle as distinctly as if no medium existed. Red wines commonly attain this degree of brightness by the time they have been twice subjected to the process above described. The management of white wines is more troublesome, they usually require twice, and sometimes four or five times as long a time as the red, to render them perfectly bright. I have always found isinglass to succeed best in fining wines of this class, but it should never be used with the former, because it will enter into chemical combination with a portion of the coloring matter, and carry it down. It may be prepared for use either by being dissolved in water or in wine. For the former method, take 4 oz. of best cut or staple isinglass, the latter is to be prefered, and is less expensive, and 1 ½ oz. tartaric acid. Let the isinglass be well hammered upon some hard surface, such as an anvil or cooper’s beak, or pounded a little at a time, in a mortar, with a heavy pestle; the more it is bruised and beaten into small fragments the better; put it into a bucket or small tub with the tartaric acid, pour on two or three quarts of boiling water, and cover it up closely. In the course of a day or two, it will, if good, have settled, so as to have become quite soft, and to have absorbed all the water; when it has done this, add about as much more boiling water and cover it up again, until the whole is so far swelled as to shew no whitish opaque portions; then with a whisk (made like a small broom, but with clean tough twigs) beat it vigorously up until it becomes a thick glutinous mass of uniform appearance, adding gradually, as much more boiling water as will make the whole amount to three gallons. Care should be taken not to commence beating it up with the whisk until it be thoroughly softened, or it may always remain lumpy and imperfect. When properly prepared, it should have the consistence and something of the appearance of a thick preparation of arrowroot. In this state it may be put into bottles, tightly corked up, and will thus keep good many months. In preparing it with wine, the same quantity of isinglass should he thoroughly reduced by pounding, for three gallons of any good sound wine, but the tartaric acid may be omitted. In mixing, the wine may be added in the same proportions (but cold,) as described above it must be carefully covered up while soaking, and, in cold weather, kept at a warm temperature, until it has become thoroughly softened; when this takes place, it must be beaten up, &c., as before described. The chief care requisite in both these preparations, is first to hammer or bruise the raw isinglass into the smallest possible fragments, then to let it soak thoroughly in a small portion of liquid, until it has become quite soft, and lastly by a vigorous, and somewhat rough application of the whisk, to break the whole well down, adding the remaining fluid by slow degrees. Ono bottle of the prepared isinglass is amply sufficient for a cask of 100 imperial gallons at its first fining, and half the quantity will probably be sufficient at any subsequent period. It should be used in the same manner as the white of eggs, that is, by first drawing off two or three quarts of wine from the cask, of which two quarts may be well mixed with the isinglass, then after giving a rotatory motion to the contents of the cask with the split stick, to pour it in and thoroughly incorporate it with the wine, the remaining quart to be poured in afterwards, to fill up the cask. If necessary, other substances are sometimes added to assist by their mechanical weight in the precipitation of` the isinglass. Those which I have tried, are pounded marble, oyster shells, and animal charcoal. The advantage of using these substances is questionable, the latter, which should be used very sparingly, not exceeding a dessert spoonful to a large cask, exercises a chemical action upon the ferment, as well as upon the coloring matter of the wine, and certainly appeared in some cases to be of benefit.

Much difference of opinion exists with regard to the beneficial effects to be obtained by the use of finings; I may, therefore, here, with propriety state, for the reader?s information, the view I have taken of the subject. Although I have had little means of obtaining accurate information respecting the processes adopted in preparing the strong wines of the south of Europe, Madeira, &c., for the English market, we may take it for granted that they contain a large quantity of brandy, generally of inferior quality, and frequently other substances; all of which are said to be added subsequently to the fermentation. They will consequently be contained in a state of mechanical, not chemical, combination with the wine. The better classes of these wines are supposed to be less “fortified” by the addition of spirit, and are prized for a rich, and almost syrupy fulness of flavour, which, to a certain extent, masks their excessive strength. Such wines will not be improved by much fining, on the contrary, they are preferred by many to be used in draught, without being fined at all. The ordinary kinds, which alone find their way into general consumption, are said to be all artificially treated, as I have mentioned above, to impart softness and flavour, as well as to increase their strength; and when unskilfully made use of, burnt sugar, liquorice, &c., may be distinguished by their flavour, as forming part of the substances so added. They are, of course, in a state of mechanical combination only, and it is, therefore, probable, that the addition of finings will carry down a considerable portion of them with the lees, and make the wine, which proves to be the case in practice, so much the more harsh and fiery, as it is rendered bright. But it is very different with natural wines. They have not been fortified by the addition of a harsh spirit, and run no risk of becoming fiery as their lees are deposited. If strong, their strength will almost invariably be accompanied by a certain fulness to the taste, of which they are not to be deprived, except by great mismanagement; and when light, they have frequently the recommendation of an agreeable fragrance, combined with a delicate flavour. The more completely they are deprived of their lees, the more will their agreeable qualities be developed. It may be very true, that if left in a state of perfect repose, and kept at a proper temperature, they will sooner or later become as bright without assistance, as they can be made by the process of fining. Experience, however, teaches us that by means of this process, we can bring them to the same state at a much earlier period, and without depriving them of any of their agreeable qualities. But there is yet another argument in favour of fining artificially, and the beginner should bear it in mind, that with the lees is deposited that portion of the ferment which may not have been destroyed during the conversion of the sugar of the grape into spirit; that so long as this substance is contained in the wine, unless there be sugar also in an unaltered state for it to exert its agency upon, there is danger that its energies may be employed in conducting the process of fermentation into the acetous stage, but that when once it is completely deposited and removed, this danger no longer exists, and the wine is capable, in all probability, of being kept sound for an indefinite period. There is little doubt that the practice of dosing largely with brandy, wines intended for exportation, had its origin partly in the extensive losses sustained by its turning acid, a degeneration which would rarely have taken place, had they been of good quality, sufficiently ripened by age, and deprived of their lees by judicious racking and fining. The really fine wines, which are well ripened by age and proper treatment, do not need it, and I think it probable that it was only when the demand for these exceeded the supply, that recourse was had to the practices above alluded to. Nevertheless, in the use of finings, the beginner must exercise a judicious caution, because the very best wines may be injured by being too early, or too frequently subjected to their action. I should never recommend their use until the wine acquires a certain degree of brightness naturally. If by the month of December, succeeding the vintage, the new wine still continues to be milky or turbid, if it be still sensibly sweet to the palate, it will be better to abstain from fining it, the insensible fermentation is probably still active, and until it moderates, which may be known by the clearing of the wine, it will be useless, if not injurious, to attempt to make it bright by artificial means: it is a better plan to wait. If the setting in of the acetous fermentation be feared, recourse may be had to racking and sulphuring without fining. By the sufficient impregnation of the wine with the vapour of burning suphur, the whole of the ferment will be precipitated in a few days, and if there be reason to apprehend its injurious influence upon the wine, it can then be separated from it by racking. Some of the colonial wines have a sharpness of flavour which an experienced person will instantly distinguish from that produced by the acetous fermentation. Sometimes this sharpness is accompanied by a sweetness equally sensible to the palate. Wines of this description require only to be kept in the wood for a time, to lose this acidulous flavour. It often arises from the quantity of tartar they hold in solution, which they will probably in great part deposit by the time the insensible fermentation is completed. Fining such wines will probably injure them by checking this fermentation, and thus delaying their progress towards maturity. If they continue many months in this state, without improvement, it is frequently a good plan to add to them at the ensuing vintage, a fourth or fifth part of their bulk, or even a smaller proportion, of sweet fresh must, so as to make them undergo a gentle sensible fermentation, which will decompose their sugar, and cause the tartar to be deposited with the lees. Sometimes, however, this combined flavour of sweet and acid results chiefly from the presence of carbonic acid with the sugar, in consequence of the wine being actually in this state of gentle fermentation. If the wine so affected has been produced (as will probably be the case) from must originally rich in the saccharine principle, and be attended to so as to keep the casks constantly full, there is little doubt of its resulting in a generous full bodied liquor. It is probable that this state is attributable either to an original deficiency of ferment in the must, to the small volume of the fermenting mass, or to a low temperature during the process; one or more of these causes operating to prevent the ferment from acting with sufficient energy to effect the sufficient conversion of the sugar into spirit: and that afterwards, the wine being placed under circumstances more favorable for the action of the vinous fermentation, the agency of the ferment, which remains suspended in it, is renewed. The sharp acidulous flavour is, in this case, as I have said above, an effect of the presence of carbonic acid, and remains until the process is terminated, when it altogether disappears. Chemists insist upon it, as an invariable law, that the acetous stage of fermentation cannot commence until the vinous stage has terminated, by the conversion of the whole of the sugar into spirit. We may rest assured, therefore, that when this process is complete, the acidulous flavour will have disappeared also, and that any gentle fermentation which a wine may undergo, until this effect has taken place, can only result in its improvement.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down rules of general application as to the length of time wine ought to remain in the wood. None of those of colonial growth, with which I have had experience, could be bottled with propriety before they were three years [‘old’ added in Errata], and even then, might probably have been much improved by being kept longer in the cask. Some that we have will not be fit to bottle until they are twice that age. But there are certain general principles, by attending to which, the wine maker may be enabled in the course of time, to establish rules for his own guidance. In the first place, no wine can be fit to bottle, until, by keeping, or by fining, it has become perfectly limpid, technically speaking, “candle bright.” The slightest dimness, or appearance of any substance floating through it, sufficient to prove its unfitness. In holding it before the flame of a candle, a plain wine glass is preferable, and it will show a “cloud,” or what are technically termed “flyers,” (that is minute substances of fibrous appearance) if any exist, much more readily if it be gently agitated in the glass. Still, I do not think persons without experience will be quite prepared to judge whether it has or has not attained perfect limpidity, until they have compared it with some pale brandy, or other pure spirit subjected to the same test. The wine ought to appear as bright and clear as the spirit. But although perfect limpidity is necessary to render wine fit for bottling, it is no criterion of its having attained sufficient age in the wood. There is a certain mellowness and softness of flavour, which practice alone can teach the wine maker to distinguish. We have seen in a former chapter, that the juice of the grape comprises a variety of substances besides its sugar; these substances, although chiefly deposited in the form of lees, and removed at the first racking, do nevertheless in part remain, often in such a state of perfect solution, as scarcely, if at all, to impair its limpidity. If time sufficient be allowed, together with repose, the greater portion of these salts will be deposited in the cask, in a crystallized form. Nothing is more common, than to see casks which have contained wine, perfectly coated with these crystals. The Germans call them “wine stone.” It is the chemical action, the result of the prolonged insensible fermentation, which disengages them; and how greatly sound good bodied wines are improved by being thus purified, only those who have experienced it, can readily conceive. I have been assured by a proprietor of a vineyard, in one of the most celebrated districts on the Rhine, that the best wine of his district is prized at first for its lusciousness; that after three or four years, it becomes scarcely drinkable, until it has passed twenty or twenty-five years, when it begins to assume those high qualities which cause it to produce the very highest price in the world; that at forty or fifty years old, it is in its prime, and continues to be so for an indefinite length of time. The wine of Rousillon, before mentioned, is known extensively in commerce as a rough strong bodied red wine, and prized as such in the north of Europe, but more so by the wine merchants of Paris, as affording them the means of imparting strength, by mixing, to the poor tart wines of the north of France. But we are told that this rough red wine, if preserved carefully in the wood for fifteen or eighteen years, becomes totally changed in character; that it assumes a rich bright golden hue, and that this change of color is patiently waited for by the large proprietors, as the sign of its having acquired sufficient mellowness to bottle. In this state it has the reputation of being one of the finest wines produced in France: and, when left on ullage, either in the cask or in bottle, it is not liable to suffer injury. Rousillon wine of the year 1661, was lately said to be still in existence, having continued to improve in quality to the last. These are the extreme cases, of course, and I notice them as such, to induce the growers of wine, to lay by in good years, a portion of their produce in wood, to prove the effect of age upon it. It is only by having old wine mellowed by keeping in the cask, to compare with, that we shall by degrees attain the experience necessary to determine how long our various growths may be kept with advantage, before they are bottled for use. But whether the period during which the wine is preserved in the cask be long or short, it is in France recommended that so long as it is so preserved, it should be racked into clean casks, twice a year, that is before the rise of the sap in the spring, and the coloring of the grapes in autumn, in order to free it from the deposit it will constantly be found to have made, I have adopted this practice here, as I believe, with the best results, and I recommend it to the proprietors of vineyards, whenever the quantity of the wine, and other circumstances will permit. I do not consider it advisable to use finings, previous to each racking, but until the wine became perfectly limpid, I should in most cases fine once a year, at the commencement of summer, for instance. After it has become quite bright, further fining might be injurious, except when about to be bottled. I shall subjoin, to complete this chapter, the translation of two short extracts, from French works of great reputation, premising that at Bordeaux, as I am informed by an individual whose authority is unquestionable, it is the practice to fine wines twice, often three times, a year, and that by the adoption of this plan they now succeed in giving to their wines the same degree of mellowness in two or three years, as it formerly required seven or eight years to impart.

“Not only is it necessary to rack all wines from their gross lees previous to the vernal equinox which succeeds the vintage, but to repeat the process previous to every equinox, so long as it is preserved in casks.

However long the period that wine may have been allowed to remain in the fermenting vat, when it is racked into the cask, a portion of the lees will still be blended with it. Of this, the greatest part is precipitated to the bottom, and a smaller portion remains suspended in the fluid. These lees consist of that part of the ferment which has not been decomposed during the fermentation, probably even of the whole of the ferment, and during hot weather, may render the wine liable to turn sour; it is prudent then to separate them by racking. This operation is always performed once or twice a year, with wines of superior quality; at Bordeaux, finings are added previous to each racking. Theory points out that there is still greater reason to adopt this precaution with common wines, nevertheless in many wine districts it is dispensed with; at all events, it is not usual to rack them unless immediately previous to their being removed to a distance. Such is the practice in the departments of the Basses-Alpes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Ardèche, &c., &c., &c. In several of these wine districts it is a prevalent belief that the lees in weak wines, act as a preservative, and that such wines become more feeble and poor by being separated from them; it would even appear that in la Meurthe and la Marne, comparative experiments have been made, the results of which confirm this opinion. We nevertheless remain perfectly persuaded that the surest plan is to rack off.” [Jullien Manuel du Sommelier, Cavoleau Oenologie Francaise].

Upon the subject of racking off, it only remains for me to remark that calm clear mild weather should be chosen for the purpose; wines are seldom so bright in cloudy damp weather, during the prevalence of violent gales of wind, or when there are frosts.


Letter XVII – Preparation of Wine for Use

It will not, perhaps, be thought superfluous that I should describe in a short paper, for the benefit of the uninitiated, what methods I would recommend, in order that colonial wine may be produced upon table in proper condition for use. As I conceive that it will be rarely found expedient to use it in draught, I will first describe the process of bottling, as I have seen it practiced, and will afterwards point out what methods we have, upon trial, found to succeed best when it is used on draught. We will suppose the wine to have been sufficiently mellowed in the wood, by age, that all harshness, bitterness, or acidity has been softened down, and that the “bouquet” or fragrance is fully developed, in short that it is ripe for bottling. If it has not been rendered “candle bright” by previous treatment, it is absolutely necessary that this state of perfect limpidity should be produced without loss of time. With this view, it is recommended by persons of experience, that it should be first racked off into clean casks, sufficiently sulphured, and then fined, as described in the preceding paper; the casks being mounted up on solid supports, as nearly as possible in a horizontal position, and never inclined to the front. In a preceding paper I have remarked upon the necessity of having casks of wine secured in such manner that there shall be no risk of their being accidentally shaken, this precaution is of still greater importance when the wine is about to be put into bottles. If, at the expiration of two or three weeks, supposing the wine to have been carefully preserved in a state of repose, and the weather not to have been unfavourable, it has not attained perfect brightness, it is recommended to rack it off again into other casks most carefully cleansed, and slightly sulphured, taking the precaution in the process of racking, to have it completely separated from such lees as it may have deposited. In these fresh casks let it again remain for two or three weeks; it can scarcely fail by the expiration of this period to have attained the desired condition. If, unfortunately, it should not have done so, it will probably be proper to fine it again, but with a different description of finings. Should the wine after this still remain imperfectly cleared, it is an almost certain symptom that it requires further mellowing in the cask. In suitable weather, I have never experienced difficulty in fining wine of sufficient age.

We will now suppose the requisite degree of brightness to have been attained; let the utmost care, however, be taken to have this point well ascertained. The existence of the least cloudiness, or of the smallest portion of minute fibrous substances, is sufficient to render it unfit; it will, in such case, as suredly deposit more or less in bottle, and probably become unfit to use, without being decanted. A sufficient number of bottles should have been previously prepared, by carefully washing them with small shot and warm water, and repeated rinsing in clean water until not the slightest stain or evil odour remains. After washing, they require to be drained, by being placed in a bottle rack, with their necks down, in such situation as not to be exposed to dust. A little water left in a bottle, may, and frequently does, give an unpleasant flavour to the whole of its contents. To guard against this evil, it is advisable to pass a little wine through every bottle, just previous to its being used. Another requisite is to be provided with a supply of new corks, all sound, and of the best quality. None are good which are not soft and elastic to the touch, and free from holes or decayed portions, commonly called “seediness;” if corks of the latter description be used, much of the wine will be spoilt. Care, also, must be taken that they have not become musty or mouldy by having been kept in too damp a place. It is advisable to have nets to hang them up in, about three or four gross together. In every cellar there ought to be several bottling cocks; a sufficient number of these should be prepared by boiling for ten or fifteen minutes, and by wrapping a piece of paper round the shank of each, just as it is about to be inserted in the cask. The foregoing preparations having been made, the evening before the wine is to be bottled, the cocks should be put into the casks. In performing this, it is better to pierce a fresh hole with the centre bit, about two inches from the lower chime, even although there should have been one in the proper situation before. Care must be taken not to shake the cask, and only to use the instrument until a little of the wine begins to trickle through the centre of the hole. The cock should then be inserted, if possible, by a wrench with the hand, or, at all events, without driving with the mallet; in doing this, observe that the cock is open, so that the wine may run out as soon as it is fixed in the cask, if the cock be put in closed, a quantity of air will escape from it into the cask as soon as it is turned, which, passing up through the wine, may disturb the lees, and render it foul. A shallow tub should have been placed under the cask to catch the wine, but as soon as a little has run off, the cock may be turned; this wine will serve for steeping the corks, or for rinsing the bottles. It is desirable to have the “nose” of the bottling cock a little on one side, that the bottles may be held in the same oblique position, and thus prevent the frothing of the wine as they are filled. The next day, the weather being fine, and every thing in preparation, the wine may be bottled. A spile hole should first be made in the upper part of the cask, to admit air, and sufficient wine drawn off through the cock to pass through the bottles, and for the corks to be steeped in; a shallow tub, about three inches deep, must also be placed under the chime of the cask; the bottling may then be proceeded with.

Where the quantity of wine is considerable, and there is a regular establishment, it is, I believe, usual to employ three persons in the process, and they, I understand easily manage to bottle off 300 gallons (150 dozen) per day. The first man fills the bottles, and he never turns the cock from the time he first sets it running, until all be drawn off, to manage this, he has always an empty bottle in hand, to replace the full one, a basket being placed on either side of him, (one for the full, the other for the empty bottles,) with twelve divisions, each to hold a bottle. With practice he becomes so expert in shifting his hand, that he never spills any of the wine, and by the sound he can always tell when a bottle is sufficiently full, that is when it has reached to within about two inches of the top. The second man is seated at a sort of bench, upon which is placed a vessel full of corks in steep, and to which is attached a contrivance, usually worked with the right foot, for compressing and softening the end of every cork before it is inserted into the bottle. He has a leather socket, called a “bottling boot,” strapped tightly round just above his left knee, to hold the bottle he is corking, and to catch the wine, in case the bottle should break. Having the basket of bottles just filled at his right hand, he takes them out in succession, fits a cork, the smaller end of which will barely enter the neck, and having softened it with the instrument, drives it quite home with a light bat. Observe that every cork when tightly driven, should project an eighth of an inch beyond the mouth of the bottle; it can thus be made to close the orifice more perfectly, because the upper end will be a little flattened out by the blows of the bat. When driven home, not more than an inch of space should be left in the neck of the bottle, between the cork and the wine. The third man is employed in carrying off (a dozen basket in each hand) the wine as it is bottled; in stowing it away in bins or in a pile, and in returning with the baskets full of empty bottles. In stowing the wine it is usual to invert the bottles so that no air bubbles may remain attached to the corks, and then to bed them horizontally in a thin layer of sand or saw-dust. When one layer is finished, a little more saw-dust is sprinkled over it, to prevent the bottles from being pressed against each other, and stout laths laid across to support the next tier. In this manner it is usual to build them up to the height of three or four feet, the laths between the different tiers of bottles being the means of dividing the weight equally amongst those below. When only one person is employed in bottling, he first puts his corks in steep, and softens the ends of a number of them with the machine, then, having provided himself with a supply of empty bottles on his right hand, he arranges the shallow tub under the cock in such manner, that a bottle may rest in it in a slightly inclined position, supported by having the end of the cock just within the neck of the bottle. He then turns the cock only so far as to give him time, whilst the bottle under it is being filled, to cork the one which preceded it, place it in the basket, which should be situated just behind him, and take a fresh bottle in hand to replace the one under the cock. He thus continues until his two baskets of one dozen each are filled, he then stops the cock, and proceeds to stow them away, and to return with a fresh supply of empty bottles. By working constantly for twelve or fourteen hours, he may thus contrive to bottle off from forty to fifty dozen. When the wine is drawn off nearly to the level of the cock, the cask must be very gently raised from behind, and supported, either by chocks or by a stick with an iron fork, like a small stout pitch fork, at each end. If the cask be large, the assistance of a second person will be necessary, unless the cellar be provided with a simple instrument, not easily described without a figure, by means of which, a single person with one hand, can raise into an inclined position, in the most gradual manner, a cask of large dimensions. After the cask has been raised, the wine should be examined, to ascertain if it continues to be in good condition, and may be run off into bottles, gradually inclining the cask more forward, so long as it continues to be unmixed with any of the lees. As soon, however, as the least change is observed, the bottling should be discontinued, and the remainder poured off into a small keg, there to clear itself for immediate use.

To preserve bottled wine in good condition, it should be allowed to remain undisturbed in a perfectly horizontal position, that the corks may always be moistened with the wine, and that the deposit, if there be any, may attach itself firmly to the underside of the bottles. In this state, to have it in prime condition, it ought to remain at least twelve months: and if, after that time, it be transported to a distance, it should be allowed to rest for several weeks before it is used. It is an almost universal practice in France to cover the ends of the corks with wax; this custom, I believe, is of no other use than to protect them from the attacks of insects; it certainly cannot assist in retaining the wine, because the latter dissolves it, by means of its alcohol, if they come in contact with each other.

When it is proposed to use wine in draft, after having rendered it perfectly bright, it is prudent, if the cask be large, first to rack it off from its deposit, into several of smaller size, each of which, should, of course, have been carefully purified and sulphured. Then to insert a cock into the upper portion of the head of one of them, to draw off the wine as it is required. Each cask that is in draught should be provided with a long taper bung, which can easily be taken out and made sufficiently tight again; and a quantity of clean, hard, small sized pebbles, (quartz pebbles are the best) sufficient to fill one of the casks, should also be procured. In using the wine, it will be advisable to draw off at one time all the wine required for the day’s consumption, then the bung being taken out, to drop in gently, a sufficient number of the pebbles to fill up the vacant space so made, and to put it in again. By this method, with ordinary care, a cask of light wine may be kept in draft, without any sensible deterioration, until it be nearly all consumed. The remainder may then be bottled, or put into a small keg, according to its condition. Although a light wine may, in this manner, be consumed in a family, without risk of its being spoiled by being on ullage, it is only the strong wines prepared for the English market, which are thus to be treated with advantage. The lighter wines scarcely ever develop their flavour, or their fragrance, to their full extent, until they have been a considerable period in bottle. Until wine is produced in the colony to a much greater extent than is now, unfortunately, the case, I fear that Australian wines, in good condition for use, will rarely be seen, except at the tables of the producers. People are apt to forget, that a natural wine, unless it has been thoroughly matured by being kept many years, so as to have been freed from every principle which can have a tendency to excite fermentation; can never be removed over our rough roads without being rendered altogether unfit to drink, until it has been allowed time sufficient to re-establish itself. This period will be longer or shorter, according to circumstances; it may be several months, it can scarcely be less than two or three weeks. The stronger wines, Sherry and Madeira, for instance, contain sufficient spirit to counteract all tendency to ferment; any disturbance of their lees, therefore, to which they may be subjected by removal, will be purely mechanical, and a few days repose will, consequently, in the majority of instances, be sufficient to restore them. But the natural wine, not having been “fortified" by the addition of brandy, is in a different predicament, its state of disturbance will probably be chemical, as well as mechanical, and unless sufficient time be afforded for it to subside, it will be vain to form any opinion of its qualities. In receiving a cask of such wine after a journey, the better plan will be to have it put up upon firm supports as soon as possible, and to put a spile in near the bung, to allow the fixed air to escape, should any have been evolved; then to let it remain quite undisturbed for twelve or fifteen days. After this period, a little may be drawn off from a spile hole, to be made in the upper part of one end, to ascertain its condition, but on no account to commence its consumption, until by time, or fining, it has become perfectly “candle bright” again.