WINEMAKING & DISTILLING
A Note from Miles...
Allow me to introduce you to Charbay and our process of winemaking & distillation...
The four of us - my wife, Susan, together with our son Marko and his wife, Jenni and I - handle the entire operation. Our primary expertise and interests are in fermentation, distillation and personal hospitality. Before we get into details of Charbay's winemaking & distillation let me first fill you in on a little bit of history of distillation.
A Brief History of Distillation
Since antiquity, the perfumes, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, along with the alchemy for gold and elixir of life, were among the prime-time fascinations of the learned ones, who at the beginning of the second millenium ultimately gave us the spirits of modern times.
Egyptians and Greeks distilled plants, spices and other matter (sea water). The Romans eventually named the prrocess "de-stillare", Latin for "to drip or trickle down" as the distillate trickled down from the still. Arabs however, discovered alcohol distillation in the early middle ages (1050 - 1150)
Sources for Fermenting and Distilling Materials
The sugars and flavors of fruits and carbohydrates from innumerable other plants, when hydrolyzed to simple sugars and the simple sugars themselves, when fermented into alcohol, give us the raw materials for all distilled spirits.
Alcohol and alcohol soluble flavors from grains, fruits, and vegetables give us the following five primal spirits: whiskies, brandies, rum, vodkas, and tequila.
Pastis, gin and liqueurs to name just a few are the sub-categories of the above primal spirits.
Our Winemaking Process
During a season, we hand-make a number of wines and spirits by fermenting and distilling sometimes a dozen or more kinds of fruit.
They all require various soils, sites and climates. So we leave fruit growing to other professionals.
12th & 13th Generation Master Distillers
and Marko Karakasevic atop their Pot Still
By paying them the top price for small amounts of the finest fruits we need each year, we are free to concentrate on our strengths, the art of winemaking and distilling. This way we can choose the fruit grown by the professionals on the best growing sites. We do get the best of many worlds this way. We are lucky. Most of our growers are friends by now.Let me explain to you our process of red winemaking, a simple operation that separates Masters from others! The process consists of and requires the following: Experience, time, money, luck, best fruit, good destemer/crusher, small open-top fermenters, yeast's, strong back for stirring must, good must-pump, old basket press, best French oak barrels, cool barrel-aging cellar, filter, bottling equipment, bottles, corks, foils and label and finally: You, our customer, who appreciates the horrendous amount of hard work, time and expenses that go into each bottle of Domaine Charbay products
Ziveli! i Nazdravjle! ("Let's Live" and "To your health")
Now that we've lined-up all of the above, let's start:
Select-quality whole fresh fruits are brought to us here on Spring Mountain or to our Distillery in Mendocino County.
Here on the Mountain the fruits are destemmed or de-pitted and crushed directly into 1 Ton /240 gallon open-top fermenters, right here at the crushing and fermenting pad. Special yeasts used for different products are added to fermenters to start fermentation. Each fermenter, during the course of alcoholic fermentation (6-12 days) is hand punched-down and/or pumped-over 2-4 times a day to extract flavors and color and cool the fermenting must.
|After the alcoholic fermentation of red wine is finished, (all sugar converted to alcohol), the fermenters are sealed from air for the next 3-5 weeks during which time a malolactic fermentation and softening of young tough tannins extracted during alcoholic fermentation will complete. Free-run red wine is pumped out of the fermenter and the pomace is hand-pressed into an old basket press! Free-run and pressed wines are combined and barreled into 60 gallon French oak barrels for +/- 2 years of aging. After barrel aging, the wines are finished, bottled and bottle-aged for months or years before being released to our customers. As I said, a simple thing! |
General Distillation Equipment
The technology of simple fractional, alcohol distillation uses basically three pieces of equipment: Still, Rectifying System and Condenser.
Fundamentally, there are three different kinds of alcohol stills, with various rectifying and condensing systems and numerous distillation techniques:
- Batch Still : All copper, direct fire, classic Alambic Pot-Still with head & swan's neck and coil Condenser.
- Continuous (industrial) Still : Steel / Glass column stills, steam heated, rectifiers & condensers.
- Various Hybrid Stills of the first two sysems : Each system is used to distill various spirits of varied quality. Economy and quality of spirits production are the main reasons for choice.
The Karakasevic Family Double-Distillation,
7 Fraction Distillation Process
Our Classic Alambic Pot-Still Distillery consists of 3 pieces of equipment:
- Alambic Pot-Still
|The Alambic Pot-Still is formed into an onion shape from two plates of red copper. An Onion Head (shape) rectifying part is flanged to the neck of the Pot-Still. Flanged to the top of the Onion Head is the Swan's Neck (shape) formed piece which is further pipe-connected through the Preheater into the Condenser's serpentine coil pipe which finally ends at the Port. |
The Preheater is also an onion shaped vessel of equal size as the Pot-Still. It is used as energy and time saving device only and as such is not an essential part of distillation. Once the batch of wine is distilling, the next batch of cold wine to be distilled is pumped into the Preheater situated above and away from the Pot-Still.
The hot steam rising from the Pot-Still during distillation passes through the Preheater and pre-heats the cold wine. Since the Preheater is elevated, the warmed wine will by gravity re-fill the empty Pot-Still very fast, thereby saving energy and idle time between distillations.
The Condenser is a wide, open-top copper tank with a " serpentine " coil pipe inside. The Condenser is always full of cold water. The hot steam comes from the Pot-Still through the Preheater and into the closed serpentine pipe of the Condenser. When surrounded with the cold water of the Condenser, the steam in the serpentine pipe condenses into a liquid spirit. The metamorphosis of wine into a spirit is finished.
Our Double Distillation, 7 Fraction Distillation Process is a proprietary one. It is a summation of the fermenting and distilling experience of 13 generations of the Karakasevic Family. I will briefly explain the basics of these processes, for the details are the secret art imbedded only in the head and heart of the current Master Distiller of the Karakasevic Family.
In order to better understand the production of Domaine Charbay Spirits, the following points are well worth keeping in mind for they are very rare in the Spirits World.
The distillation process begins with the end of an alcoholic fermentation in a fermenter as described under " Our Winemaking Process". The real fun just begins!
- All of our spirits are hand-distilled using proprietary, double or triple distillations, 7-10 fraction separation techniques
- Our Classic Alambic Charentais Pot-Still Distilleries represent 2 out of only 5 installations of these stills in the U.S.! Indeed, they are the rare sights that remind me of a "Nautilus" and recall the Jules Vern's fertile mind.
- Only 2 pure red copper plates are used in construction of our Classic Alambic Pot-Stills
- Heating source for distillation is a live gas flame applied directly to the red copper bottom of the Alambic Pot-Still
- Only new French Limousine, 93 gallons oak barrels are used for aging of our yet to be released (16 year old!) cognac style Brandies.
Depending on which fruit we are fermenting and what kind of distillates we are to distill, all fermented crushed fruit is either pumped into an Alambic Pot-Still straight from the fermenter and distilled, or the fermented fruit is pressed-off to separate the solids and the resulting wine is distilled in a Pot-Still. The whole metamorphosis of wine into a spirit basically consists of 2-3 distillations. A batch of wine is pumped into a Pot-Still. Live gas heat is applied to the bottom of the still. After some time of heating the hot steam starts flowing throughout the whole system to finally condense and exit at the Port.
The distillation continues until no more alcohol is coming through the Condenser. Based on the boiling points of different volatile molecular compounds, distilling over time and temperature range during this "first" distillation, we separate the above compounds into 3 different fractions. This is the first distillation. The heat is stopped, Pot-Still emptied, washed and re-filled with one of the 3 fractions from first distillation and the whole operation is repeated. Next is the second distillation during which time 4 fractions are separated. The "Heart of Hearts" fraction in the second distillation is the fraction we are after and all the work boils down to that one. This is the Karakasevic Spirit of Domaine Charbay which you will eventually enjoy.
To help you better understand this whole business of double distilling 7 fractions, think of a car as an analogy to a bottle of spirit! The largest part of a car is a chassis, the water part of a bottled spirit. Engine is next in size, the ethyl alcohol part of a bottle of Spirit. Both of this parts, water and alcohol represent +/- 99.5% of the volume of a bottle of basically any Spirit. Both do not have any color, taste nor flavor. The flavor part comes from non-water/alcohol molecules that are in our case of a car analogy, the sizes and makes of: tires, brakes, transmission, bumpers etc.. the smaller pieces of a car. The flavor molecules are distributed among all of 7 fractions. Differentiating them and deciding how much of which of "good or bad" portion of those 7 fractions to leave in a "Heart of Hearts" is the Distiller's Art. These decisions fundamentally separate a Master Distiller from any other. Only a handful of us, at best, are in this country. This knowledge of which fraction and how much of it to leave and/or remove from the "Heart of Hearts" fraction during double distillation is a fundamental one, the one which determines the destiny & character of Spirits years after the act of creation.
Now that we have gone through all of this, I will give you a TEST to see how well you understand all of this mumbo-jumbo of the art and science of the Simple Distillation. (Just kidding!)
Facts and Future Visions
Distilled spirits have grown together with the world's civilizations. They will continue to do so. With the reduced public and government hypocrisy, religious intolerance and increased personal social responsibilities of alcohol consumption, coupled with the future cure of genetic pre-disposition of a portion of mankind toward various chemical addictions, the enjoyment of distilled spirits and their use in moderation, will demand and will receive the new spectrum of source, taste and quality of the spirits of the next millennia. We are just starting to dream about them. The permanence of change is driving the present spirits and other products into the future through competition, art and technology. That force will reveal to us, the quantum leap of the qualities and choices of the spirits of the next millennia. Charbay Whole Fresh Fruit Flavored Vodkas are, for example, the forerunners into that future.
We have just begun.