Winemaking 101 with Animale Winery

This last Sunday I had the opportunity to meet with Matt Gubitosa, owner and winemaker at Animale Wines, here in Ballard.  Matt produces an impressive variety of red wines: syrah, petit sirah, merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, where he crushes, ferments, presses, ages, bottles and distributes hundreds of bottles of Animale wine all from his home production center in Ballard.  One could say Matt runs the ultimate garage industry.  I met with Matt at his Ballard home and wine production center to discuss wine making.  Matt’s outfit of equipment at Animale provided a perfect scale to see first-hand the processes of producing wine and the stages the grapes go through before they turn into delicious wine. 

Matt, who had just finished crushing syrah and petit sirah grapes, had the grapes in fermenting containers.  To explain what this means I need to start at the beginning of the winemaking story.  For Matt the story begins in Eastern Washington, on small family-owned farms.  Matt told me that it was in the growing of the grape, the care and attention the farmer paid to the vines, that the heart of the wine was made.   As a winemaker who works closely with his growers, Matt selects the optimum time in their ripeness for the grapes to be handpicked.   After which, he transports the grapes back over the mountains, bringing them to Ballard to work his magic and turn the fruit into wine.

Back to crush:  The first step, once the grapes are picked, in making wine.  A special machine is used to “crush” the grapes and separate the grapes from their stems.   The grapes can be slightly crushed or left mostly whole, depending on the winemaker and the desired style of wine.  After crush, the grapes are placed in fermentation containers and yeast is added.  This is where the magic starts.  The yeast reacts with the sugars in the grapes and turns the sugar into alcohol and lets off carbon dioxide.  Fermentation takes about two weeks.  When I was at Animale, I luckily was able to see the grapes in two different fermentation containers in two different time stages of fermentation.  Early in fermentation the grapes are still mostly whole, mixed in with some of their natural juices.  Bubbles are just beginning to develop in the areas where fermentation has just started.   As the days go on, the grapes begin to disintegrate and the skins float to the top.  It is also during this process that the tannic structure of the wine forms.  Tannins, the dryness in red wine that hits the side of your tongue & pulls, comes from the skins of the grape and the amount of time that the skins are left in contact with the wine juice during fermentation. 

After watching Matt stir his fermenting grapes (i.e. punching down), he took me to see his press.  Pressing is the next step in wine production.   The fermented grapes, juice, and skins are poured into the press and the remaining alcoholic juice is extracted from the grapes and put into a stainless steel tank where a second fermentation occurs.

The second fermentation of the wine juice turns naturally occurring malic acid (the same tart acid also found in green apples) to lactic acid.  The red wine loses its sourness, rounds out and softens in flavor.  This is a slower and longer fermentation process than the first yeast fermentation; it can take up to a month for the malic acid to convert.  However, last year at Animale this process took even longer, with some grapes taking up to 4 months!   I tasted a wine 2 weeks into its secondary fermentation.  It was tart!  Like an unripened cherry.   Once fully fermented, the wine is poured into oak barrels to mature. 

The time in oak barrels leaves its mark on wine.  The juice picks up flavors from the oak, often showing through as creamy hints of vanilla, spice and even tobacco.  The winemakers influence over the style of their wine can determine the amount of time that the wine ages in oak.  Matt does not like his wine to be “over oaked” and only puts some of the juice in barrels for 8 to 12 months.  He also leaves some of the juice in the stainless steel tank and blends the two juices together right before bottling.   Once bottled, the wine goes through “bottle shock” and is not good for drinking.  To avoid consumers purchasing this young, shocked wine, winemakers store freshly bottled wine for a few months to a few years before they hit the retail shelves.

I found my meeting with Matt at his Animale winery so interesting.  I felt like it was a magnified look at the whole wine making process.  It was tangible to see how winemakers are stewards of the grapes and it is in their hands to create a wine that stylistically stays true to the grape as well as to their practices.

If you are interested in purchasing Animale wines, at Portalis we have 2 in stock:
Animale 2008 Petite Sirah
$28.99 | Mixed Case $23.19
Saturated purple-black color, explosive aromas of fresh blackberries with hints of citrus peel. Medium-bodied with flavors of ripe plum and berries, and an exotic but ephemeral spice/herb note, possibly of bay leaf.  Vibrant, food-friendly acidity, with a long and balanced finish.

Animale 2008 Merlot
$24.99 | Mixed Case $19.99
Deep ruby color; complex fragrance of black cherry compote with notes of sage, spices and mixed dried fruits.  Full-bodied and mouth-filling with concentrated flavors of dried cherries, cherry syrup, black pepper and tobacco, with zesty, balanced acidity and a lingering, invigorating finish.