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I am wondering if it is possible to barrel ferment white grapes/wine. I can only find information on the web about red wines.

In regards to this process I have some questions and assumptions; I hope someone here can help me with this.

Am I correct to assume that barrel fermenting also adds color to the end product? Do people here know of commercial wines that do this?

And if it is possible, what are the steps to go from primary fermentation to malolactic fermentation when barrel fermenting a white wine? Do I need to rack it? Can I just take out the skins and leave the rest in the barrel?

Thanks in advance,

Sidney de Koning

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Yes it is possible.

Barrel fermentation of white wine is a traditional Burgundian technique, it is used (commercially) with Chardonnay for instance. Be careful because white wines are easy to oxidize, so be sure to top up the barrel if need be. Fermenting in oak barrel will add a little color and complexity. You can also conduct a ML fermentation in the oak barrel to add even more complexity to the wine.

The steps would be to crush and press the skin to extract the juice, and pour directly in the barrel. You may use a cheesecloth as a basic filter to remove remaining solids. Maceration is not recommended with white wines, at least no more than 4 hours since white wines do not need color or tannin extraction. Stirring the lees weekly is recommended to add complexity for the first couple of months, but not during ML fermentation. Add ML culture to trigger the ML fermentation right after the alcoholic fermentation.

White wines should not age for too long in oak since they are prone to oxidation, so age in a glass container (carboy, demijohn) or bottles.

Most of my recommendations are from home winemaking books that I read...

  • Thanks for the information @Philippe! I just made a batch of white and red wine which are both in ML now. So I'll have to do this next year! – Funky Monkey Oct 30 at 9:02
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I haven't done barrel fermenting but it's quite common in Burgundy with Chardonnay. Usually, its done in neutral barrels. The reason it's done is that it adds complexity and mouthfeel to the finished product because of the interaction with oak. The process is to crush, press and rack into barrels and pitch the yeast and ferment in the barrel. No skins involved.

Even though I have made barrel aged Chardonnays, I have never barrel fermented. I always fermented in stainless tanks and then moved to barrels. First, it's hard to see how full the barrel should be and sometimes the fermentation throws a lot of foam. Unless you have a lot of head space, you can't just slap an airlock on in a bung on there. I've seen guys just loosely put a bung on the barrel and let it foam all over the winery floor.

Many people conduction MLF at the same time as yeast fermentation or shortly afterwards when there is no sulfites present.

After it's done, you will need to sacrifice the wine in some barrels to top up in the other ones if you want to continue to age in barrel and on the lees. If you just want to age on the lees, I would just put in a stainless tank.

There is a tiny bit of color picked up from the barrel fermentation process. Kind of depends on how much of the char is left in the barrel.

Just google barrel fermented chardonnay and you'll get more results than you could possibly look at.

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