Batonnage, the stirring of lees after fermentation, at River Road Family Vineyards and Winery (RRFVAW) is performed by winemakers Joe Freeman and Ed Morris in a new fan-dangled way.

It’s also important to note that assistant winemaker Ed Morris worked as a cooper for 11 years, prior to coming to River Road Family Vineyards and Winery. Bring two winemakers together, both of whom have scientific minds, with one of them being a cooper, and  the experiments are bound to happen… Another important ingredient in this story is owner Ron Rubin. Ron also owns The Republic of Tea. Using Ron’s own word of “TEAm,” he not only encourages creativity, he also allows for the necessary tools to carry out the innovations.

Together Joe and Ed came up with a “what if” experiment with the 2012 vintage.

Having installed many plexiglass heads to barrels, Ed Norris admits that he wasn’t quite sure why winemakers would want to do such a thing, back in his days as a cooper. New roller racks have been introduced to the market so that racking is made easier, and Joe ordered some, including this one seen in the video below.

The “what if” came as… What if we had a barrel with a plexiglass head, and put it on this new roller rack… how amazing would it be to watch secondary fermentation and stirring of the lees? Not seen by either of them before, this seemed like a great learning tool to have at the winery. Ron agreed and off they went.

When I worked at Robert Mondavi Winery, we had a barrel with a plexiglass head. We never got to see batonnage, however, much less see the lees being blended this way, with a gentle rolling action. If you’ve never seen this kind of a barrel head being used before, pay close attention to the four strata in this barrel and the layer of wine.

  1. First one is a slimy mud at the very bottom of the barrel, and a bit hard to see in this image. (You almost “had to be there.”)
  2. Second layer at the bottom is a light cream.
  3. Next one is just a bit darker.
  4. Next one is a larger layer and the medium color.
  5. The top layer is the Chardonnay (unfiltered, unfined).

When the barrel is being stirred a crackling sound could be heard, as some CO2 was being released by the action.

List to what Joe Freeman has to say about flavor as lees die… Interesting conversation… Enjoy!


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