February 23, 2011 | by Rob Davis
Each winter, the Jordan Winery barrel cellar is filled with the sound of batons stirring the lees inside French oak barrels filled with Jordan Chardonnay. The old-world winemaking technique of batonnage, the French term for stirring wine lees, is practiced for every vintage of Jordan Chardonnay, which also means the wine is aged sur lie. Batonnage has a beautiful cadence that is truly music to a winemaker’s ears. It is also one of the most important steps in the winemaking process for the best chardonnay wines in the world.
What is batonnage?
Batonnage is a wonderful tool for quality chardonnay winemakers, almost like a spice rack to a chef. Stirring of the lees–yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the oak barrel–varies in length and frequency every vintage, depending on the complexity of the aromas and flavors of the newly press juice. It could be as short as two stirs of the lees total or as long as six weeks of stirring–usually one stir per week. Employing batonnage in winemaking helps to balance the wine. By keeping the yeast cells in contact with the chardonnay while it ages in French oak barrels–and stirring those lees–we can give the mouthfeel of Jordan Chardonnay a hint of creaminess we desire. But it’s a delicate balancing act: You don’t want to stir the lees too much, or the wine will lose its bright fruit flavors, and that’s the most important attribute in Jordan’s French-inspired style of chardonnay.
What is sur lie aging?
The term sur lie is French for “on the lees.” By oak aging chardonnay sur lie, the wine develops more weight in the mid-palate, more creaminess and more complexity from being in contact with those lees, or yeast cells. Batonnage and sur lie aging go hand in hand. A winemaker must have lees resting in the wine barrel to stir, which means the wine is aging in the barrel on its lees. This batonnage video shows you the inside of a chardonnay wine barrel and these all-too-important lees.
Every barrel of Jordan Chardonnay has been stirred by hand since the inaugural 1979 vintage. As winemaker since the inaugural 1976 Jordan Cabernet, I’ve enjoyed Jordan Chardonnay’s chamber “music” in the barrel room for four decades. Come hear for yourself. If you miss the batons in action, you can see our see-through, sur-lie aging demonstration barrel in the Jordan barrel room during our Estate Tour & Tasting.