Once the red wine is put into tanks and fermentation begins all of the solids—grape skins, pulp rise to the surface. This mass of solid matter is called must; however we refer to the floating section as “The Cap.” In order to maximize the extraction of color, flavor and structure we use one of several processes of cap management. There are many factors to consider when deciding how often to mix the cap, including the grape type, the growing season, fermentation temperature and whether or not the wine will have extended maceration.
Punch down – is a gentle process of submerging the skins that forms over fermenting red wine in order to improve the extraction of color, flavor and tannin structure. Punch downs are initiated before the yeast is added during cold soaking and then performed 2 to 3 times daily until the end of fermentation and sometimes beyond if extended maceration post fermentation is necessary to improve the structure and color stability of the wine. Because punch downs are the gentlest form of cap management it is generally exclusive to our reserve tier wines. A lot of work goes in to punching down several small lot ferments two to three times each day and therefor this input is focused on our best wines.
Pumpovers – This cap management method can be performed in a variety of ways. The process is to pump the juice from the racking valve, near the bottom of the tank, over the top of the tank and over the risen skins or cap. You can fit an attachment to the top of the tank that can irrigate the cap mechanically, or you can pump it over manually by holding on to the hose and directing the flow of the wine to wet the entire surface of the cap. This wetting process is where you maximize your extraction of flavor, color and texture.
Submerged Screen – This method involves installing a screen in the fermentation vessel to keep the cap submerged under the wine surface to maximize extraction. This system is very gentle; however, it is important to note that the skins will be very compact under the screen and the extracts will be minimal. Another cap management system will need to be incorporated to improve the extraction. I have used this system along with 2 punch downs daily and am very happy with the effect.