Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
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November/December 2007
Long-time winemaker at Sebastiani (Sonoma, CA), Mark Lyon realized that he needed to change some of his production dynamics as the winery increased production in the late 1990s. The demands of trying to barrel age some
400,000 gallons of moderately priced ($10 to $17 retail) red wine in a limited time span became logistically impossible.
In 1999, he enlisted the expertise of Oenodev to set up a microOx program for his Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah programs. His objective
was to modify and soften green tannins with microOx in tanks with chips and inserts, prior to being placed into older, neutral barrels. With the integration achieved by microOx and wood in the tanks, the wine in neutral barrels achieved the same aged character as the wines going into newer barrels.
In Lyon's experience, the microOx process seems to build an aldehydic bridge, minimizing the drying of the tannins, and reducing the time needed in barrel.
As his experience with, and knowledge about microOx increased, Lyon realized another advantage. With the huge quantity of grapes required for the production, picking every block at optimum ripeness became increasingly difficult. The use of microOx on early-picked grapes reduces herbal and veggie characteristics.
Lyon starts microOx as soon as a wine is dry at a rate of between 20 to 80 mL/L/month. This continues until MLF is complete, and then is reduced to much lower levels. As long as no Brett or VA is detected, no SO2 is added. Weekly measurements of DO, VA, SO2, and clarity accompany the tasting regime.
Lyon desires a pH of 3.5 to 3.6, dissolved oxygen at 0.4 ppm maximum, and temperature for the reds at 57° to 63°F, or slightly lower for Pinot Noir. In large tanks, circulation is part of the drill, and he will occasionally request a racking to disperse the oxygen throughout the tank.
According to Larry Biagi (American Tartaric Products), the diffusers will create their own circulation in tanks up to about 15,000 gallons. Beyond that, a pump is needed to make sure the microOx wine is dispersed in the tank.
Lyon feels that the finished taste and market acceptability of these wines is maintained by the use of microOx, despite the slightly shortened barrel ageing period. He also feels that the wines marry well with food due to their softness, fresh fruitiness, and minimal dryness.
Experience is a big factor in using microOx. Lyon recommends hiring consulting assistance when purchasing microOx equipment to ramp up the experience level quicker, and minimize any potential problems. A little bit of hand-holding and side-by-side assistance of an experienced microOx taster will go a long way towards making the initial microOx attempts successful.
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MICRO-OXYGENATION: Innovation for the winemaking toolbox