By: Mackenzie Brisbois, Winemaker
Out with the old and in with the… even older? Orange wine, amber wine or skin fermented wine are all names that describe the same technique. A technique that has become so popular in Ontario that the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (vqa) has taken notice. The vqa created a new category called Skin Fermented White Wine — white wines left on the skins of the grapes for 10 days or more. The resulting wines can appear orange in colour usually a result of some colour from the grape skins as well as some oxidation.
“...Orange wine’s time has well and truly come — bottles are proudly displayed on the shelves of countless independent wine merchants, in fashionable wine bars and top-flight restaurants as never before.”
From time to time you come across someone who dismisses orange wine because (they insist) it ruins terroir or they consider the wines to be faulted.
Like any winemaking technique, it can create wines that taste good and it can also create wines that taste less good. What do we think here at Trail Estate? Having now made these wines in five different vintages from numerous sites and varieties I know a little bit about how this technique affects the wine. I have made changes along the way from fermentation vessel to filtration trying to tighten up the winemaking to make the most delicious wine. Each year Mother Nature throws a curve ball and we get drastically different grapes. One of the reasons I love Ontario as a wine region is we have amazing vintage differences. Yet, one of the greatest challenges as a winemaker in Ontario is we have amazing vintage differences!
Skin contact can create beautiful texture in wine, adding tannin and augmenting flavours. It can also create bitterness and astringency. Some wines will also show higher levels of volatile acidity (va). In creating the wines in our skin-fermented portfolio I am looking for wines that are completely dry with mild tannins. Although the wines can have a slight elevation in va, I don’t want that to be an overpowering characteristic.
We leave wines on the skins for as short as two weeks or as long as an entire year. I use minimal amounts of sulphur (if any) and now do not filter the wines, aiming for wines that showcase the beauty of the fruit and vineyard but do not get lost in the skin contact characteristics. Wine still has to be delicious, not just different!