It’s been a tough ten days.
First, the fun part. I got just under a half ton of ripe Pinot noir from the Wahle vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA here in the northern Willamette Valley. Ripe as in 25.5 brix, or percent sugar, soaking up to just over 26 after a few days of cold maceration.
The fruit looked immaculate, except for some obvious dehydration and occasional raisined berries. Those raisins take some time to release their sugar into the crushed mass of grapes and juice that fermentation will turn into wine.
Now, raisins in Pinot noir? I know. We’ll see how the flavors turn out in the wine, but the juice doesn’t taste raisiny at all. And there weren’t that many of them. More important at this point is that there was no rot and essentially no sorting to be done before crushing.
I got the grapes this past Wednesday. Why not earlier, when sugar levels were lower but flavors already nice? That’s where the trouble begins.
Basically, between my regular job and my harvest job, and my wife going out of town for a close friend’s wedding last weekend leaving me in the care of two young kids for four days and nights, I simply didn’t have the time. That and, lucky as I was to get the fruit processed at the winery where I’m working, I was stuck with their shifting schedule for processing red grapes. Wednesday turned out to be the only day that would work, so Wednesday it was, 26 brix grapes and all.
Such is life at harvest. As I wrote last time, you just can’t always get the grapes when you’d like. Not that I’m complaining. My homebrewing is still experimental, and this year I’m learning how to deal with slightly overripe fruit. The “real wine” lover in me wants to make wine just from what I harvest. But reality this year and my desire to get experience with things, even if only to why I might not do them in the future, wins out.
So, out came five gallons of lightly pigmented juice after one night of soaking to make some early drinking rosé. And in went the same amount of distilled water with some tartaric acid, to dilute the sugar level to approximately 24 brix and increase the acid level from 5g per liter to something between 7 and 8. Adding water to make wine? Yes, sacriledge. But I don’t want to end up with 15.5% alcohol Pinot noir with a ph above 4.0. Even if I did, that kind of low acid wine is just waiting for spoilage. Lower the ph to more normal ranges and you’re much more likely to end up with a drinkable, and giftable, wine.
I’m experimenting. Perhaps it will work ok. Perhaps not. There’s only one way to find out. And judging by what I’m seeing and hearing from around the valley, I’m not alone. No one wants to talk about adding water – acid is less taboo. And for those who wonder – won’t water dilute the flavors? Not really. So much flavor and color is still in the skins and only starting to leech into the juice, adding a little water now really just lowers the sugar level. And only a bit really.
Now I’m struggling to find time to monitor the wine as much as I’d like, not to monkey around with it any more than I have, but to learn by observing it and smelling it and generally getting to know it better. But work calls and my family calls, and sleep calls. Most significantly for my body and mind, the winery calls.
Really, I’m working only every third day, so that’s not so bad. But I’m struggling. It’s hard to find a rhythm when you don’t work every day, though I’m not sure my body would stand up to repeated 12 to 14 hour days without much downtime. Am I cut out for this winemaking stuff?
More significantly, I just don’t know my way around a professional winery either as much as I thought, or at least as much as I think I should know at this point. I’m not a total newbie, but truth be told my experience is not deep. And my mechanical nature has never been strong, and you’ll quickly find out that in a winery, just like on a contruction site, being handy is a big plus. I’m not very handy.
So I’m slower with tasks then I’d like. Many processes at this winery are new to me, so I’m forever bugging my co-workers with questions, then asking for clarification when their hurried answers don’t make much sense. Then asking where I can find whatever tools or gear they’re telling me to use. Needless to say, they get frustrated and I get frustrated with myself and, while it's not like the whole experience has been a disaster, far from it really, each day has taken a toll on me. I hate not knowing my way around a place, and I find sometimes I leave for my hour drive home a bit broken down.
Maybe some of it is just the physical work. Or maybe I just need to toughen up and accept that I’ve got a lot to learn and, as much as I’d like this to be more of a learning experience, a real internship, my job is to work hard and long hours and get things done quickly and right. No matter how many other things are on my mind, including the biggie – can I hack this kind of work?
So it’s back to the winery tomorrow, then back to my “real” job Tuesday after essentially not being there for much of the past couple weeks. My kids want me to take them to the park, but it’s raining lightly. And my own wine calls.
I’ll write again when I find the time and energy.