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Freezing Cold Broken Glass

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Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 5:00 am

Want to know what Lodi wineries are up to right now? They're freezing wines and pruning vines.

With crush and visions of sugarplums mere memories, winemakers are getting 2009 reds and fresh new 2010 white wines ready for bottling.

Lodi's famous Zins are being evaluated for tweaking of the final blends with splashes of Petite Sirah, and maybe even a bit of Napa Cab for structure. If a Zin is too oaky, it may be sucked over into a tank or used barrels. If not oaky enough, new oak chips or staves may be added to the wine for a quick boost.

More and more Lodi whites, such as Albariño, Pinot Grigio and Verdelho are being made in an unoaked pure form. Bottling these within a few cool months after harvest locks in delicate floral and citrus aromas.

Quick bottling also means winemakers must get a jump on dealing with natural harmless Potassium acid tartrate crystals. These can form at the bottom of any bottle of wine that is chilled, appearing sometimes like bits of disconcerting broken glass.

Rather than have thousands of customers producing harmless crunchy crystals in their fridges, a winery will chill a tank down for perhaps multiple weeks below freezing to force crystals to form in a process called "cold stabilization."

What you wind up with is a tan-colored thin layer of crystals adhering to the bottom of the tank, while the outside jacket builds layers of white ice crystals from freezing moisture in the air. When the process is complete, the wine is gently racked off into another tank for bottling, leaving behind the crystals that can be removed like breaking peanut brittle.

Meanwhile, out in the chilly vineyards, the 2011 vintage is locked up inside protective buds, just waiting for longer, warmer days to set them free, sometime in March.

The frosty weather we've been having won't hurt the vines, which are defended by natural antifreeze in their circulatory system. We'd have to have several days of non-stop hard freezing before any damage was done.

During this time when the vines are dormant is the perfect opportunity to remove extra buds by pruning them off. One reason you may not see a good crop of grapes in your backyard vines is lack of good pruning.

The standard technique is to cut off almost the entire shoot, leaving behind only 2 strong buds on the remaining cut spur right near the main arm of the vine. The shoots that emerge from those buds will create a bunch of grapes at the first and second positions, followed by leaves as the shoot grows.

In fact, if you cut open a bud with a razor blade and examine it under a microscope, you'll see a compressed shoot with bunches and leaves lined up and ready to telescope out toward the sky.

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