It’s no secret that we love a little whole-cluster action in our juice over here at Verve Wine. When vinified at the right hands, adding stems to wine can add texture, flavor, and structure to final cuvées. However, vinifying whole-cluster requires a pretty strong attention to detail. Curious what the ins and outs of this fermentation technique (and the wines that it produces) look like? We’ve got everything you need to know about the topic in our explainer here.
What Is Whole-Cluster Fermentation?
Whole-cluster fermentation is the act of vinifying whole grape bunches and all of their components together, including stems, seeds, and berries. The popular alternative to whole-cluster fermentation is destemming, which can be done by hand (rare) or via machine. However, whole-cluster fermentation isn’t in an all-or-nothing affair. Some winemakers will choose to incorporate a small amount of whole clusters in their vinification regimens, while others will go 100% full stem inclusion.
Why Do Winemakers Use It?
Winemakers who vinify their wines with whole clusters usually do so for the texture, flavor, and structure that stems add to juice. In high-acid vintages, adding whole clusters to the mix can mellow juice out and add freshness to it. Stem inclusion can also alter the hue of a wine, as stems absorb pigment. When stems are added, the color of the wine tends to be lighter.
However, choosing to include stems in one’s vinification process isn’t always a walk in the park. Using whole bunches requires ensuring that the stems (not just fruit) are optimally ripe. When unripe/green stems are added to the mix, wines can take on an unpleasant vegetal quality. This can generally be avoided by leaving fruit on the vine for a bit longer to allow stems to fully ripen/turn brown. Adding whole bunches to ferments also makes the must harder to punch down, so most winemakers will generally use their feet or piston pumps to help execute the process rather than using their hands.
What Do ‘Whole-Cluster Wines’ Taste Like?
While every wine is unique in its own right, vinifying with whole clusters tends to add spicy, peppery notes to a given wine, which can range from the likes of black tea undertones to cedar-driven notes to peppery underbrush flavors.
Which Varieties Are Commonly Whole-Cluster Fermented?
Although any grape variety can be whole-cluster fermented, this practice is commonly used in the vinification of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Gamay, making Burgundy, the Northern Rhône, Beaujolais, California, Australia, and Oregon great places to seek out wines produced using this technique.
What Are Synonyms for Whole-Cluster Fermentation?
Whole-cluster fermentation is also referred to as stem inclusion and/or whole bunch vinification.
Which Producers Are Big Advocates of Whole-Cluster Fermentation?
Domaine Dujac - (65-100% Whole Cluster)
Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) (100% Whole Cluster)
Domaine Clape (100% Whole Cluster)
Thierry Allemand (100% Whole Cluster)
Domaine de la Côte (Partial to 100% Whole Cluster)
Pax (Partial to 100% Whole Cluster)
Lieu Dit (Partial to 100% Whole Cluster)
Chacra (90% Whole Cluster for Cincuenta y Cinco 90, 100% Whole Cluster for Sin Azufre)
Raúl Pérez (100% Whole Cluster)
By Farr (Significant % of Whole Cluster)