Our 2010 Chardonnay is currently aging “sur lie”. Sir who? The term is French and refers to aging the wine on the spent yeast cells and grape solids, the lees. Sur lie translates to “on the lees”.
If you read a winemaking textbook, it advises the winemaker to move the new wine off of the dead yeast cells as early as possible to avoid picking up any off character. But, if it’s done carefully it can give the wine a creamy, round, toasty character and added complexity. Our winemaker stirs the lees up into the wine every Monday morning to accentuate the effect. The French word for stirring the lees is “battonage”. At some point, after a few months he’ll come to the conclusion that there’s nothing more to be gained from the technique and he’ll let the lees settle and move the wine off of them, the first step of clarification.
Sur lie aging is common to Chardonnay, Muscadet, South African Steen (Chenin Blanc) and sometimes Sauvignon Blanc. See 2-minute sur lie video