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The Throwback Technique of Skin-Fermented Whites

Skin Ferment Wine
"I wanted to see the terroir leap out of each bottle of these wines. As I made a conventional wine out of each batch I wanted to take a small portion and see, learn and truly taste the terroir. Since the skins contain so many important flavours, why discard them so early?"
Mackenzie Brisbois - Winemaker
In the search for new expressions of wine, the idea of skin contact in whites has been newly re-emerging. At Trail, we have now bottled and released at least 9 cuveés, and so domestically, are at the forefront of the field. Why do we do it? Its interesting for one. It makes wines that are unexpected and demand your attention. They are not flawed wines; not rough, not stemmy, not defective; but they are certainly "atypical". They dance outside the expected realm and makes one look at each grape in new, hopefully appreciative ways.
Although modern winemaking says "no" to any significant skin contact on white wines, the skins have lots of aromatic compounds in them, precursors to aromatic compounds and phenolics (which are the elements that help build structure using tannin and bitterness). If left for months or years on the skins these wines are called Orange Wine (a wine itself releasing in Spring of 2018 to our Wine Club) and are often oxidized, with intense flavours and a classic orange colour. Our Skin Contact Series was meant to dance with the devil, by using the skins to extract just the right amount of aromatics and phenolics to build the structure of the wine, while still creating a very elegant and delicate wine.
Skin-Ferment wines can also be wildly exuberant. The skins just contain that much more flavour. Any vintage, or vineyard difference is amplified that much more.
While expressive, they are dry, slightly tart and very low alcohol. Each wine is intricately woven with acid, tannin and flavour – wines that reveal their terroir slowly and delicately. We are overwhelmed with their complexity and are excited to see how they evolve over the years.
Skin-Fermented whites do require experimentation as far as food is concerned; they play outside the box of the norm. The tannins on a knife-edge Riesling, pair perfectly with a char on a steak, for instance. So, throw conventional wisdom out the window with these wines, and enjoy!
2016/2017 SERIES
2016 Riesling - Hughes Vineyard - 19 Days Skin Contact

Vastly different than the '15 vintage. The heat from the 2016 growing season combined with the 19-day fermentation on the skins (five more than in '15) resulted in a wine with much stronger characteristics from the skins. This Riesling has a slightly lifted nose that carries its richly perfumed aromatics. The acidity and bitterness extracted from the skins and seeds creates a bone-dry palate with notes of gingerbread and orange.
2016 Gewürztraminer - Wertsch Vineyard - 13 Days Skin Contact - 5 CASES LEFT
"Such a stylish wine." (Rick VanSickle)
This exuberant wine boasts a highly intense nose. Rose petal, lychee and raspberries leap out of the glass followed by a rich but fully dry palate.
2017 Pét-Nat - Property Grown - 8 Days Skin Contact
60% Riesling, 30% Geisenheim and 10% Gewürztraminer — all picked from our vineyard. Bottled part way through a wild-ferment on skin (at about 8 days), without the addition of any yeasts, sugars or sulphurs — yielding naturally-ocurring bubbles. Primary flavours include fresh grapefruit, honey and nectarine. Nearly dry, complex, yet youthfully exuberant. Unfined and unfiltered and bottled with lees. Serve chilled and handle gently. Drink young; not meant to age. Enjoy!
Each of the 2016's and 2017's was wild-fermented, which is always our preference — the hot, dry season also being ideal for that.
2015 Riesling - Foxcroft Vineyard - 13 Days Skin Contact - SOLD OUT
"A real burgunder sensation is to be annexed out of the crafted brim of an invisibly stitched, tart-pan curl ... laser focus and thirst quenching pleasure." (Score: 92, WineAlign)
2015 Riesling - Ed Hughes Vineyard - 14 Days Skin Contact - SOLD OUT
"...shining and whispering Riesling, of tartness not on top slides beneath the surface of acidity. So much length." (Score: 89, WineAlign)
2015 Riesling - Lakeview Vineyard - 21 Days Skin Contact - SOLD OUT
"...gregarious aromatics, it's bleeding delicacy and savoury sapidity breathes freshness." (Score: 91, WineAlign)
2015 Sauvignon Blanc - Ed Hughes Vineyard - 9 Days Skin Contact - SOLD OUT
"Brilliant clarity and with skin-deep grace. The whole is a snapshot of nothing less than supple integration." (Score: 90, WineAlign)
Each wine was destemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The Sauvignon Blanc fermented with only natural yeast, whereas the Riesling was inoculated so that comparisons could be drawn between the 3 vineyards. The wines were allowed to heat up with fermentation and the cap was punched down twice-daily until fermentation was completed. All pressing was done in our small 40L basket press.
This article was originally posted Nov. 20th, 2016. Updated Jan. 5, 2017.
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