November 09, 2010

Harvest 2010 wrap - part two

See part one here.

We left off at pumping the freshly crushed grape juice over the grapes skins, to aerate the "must" (what you call the unfermented, crushed grapes) and gently begin extracting color and aroma from the skins into the juice. Then our technique is to let the fermenters sit for days on end until fermentation starts naturally. Temperatures and sugar levels are checked daily, and things monitored to make sure no issues arise. Once the grapes have naturally come up in temperature by the beginning of fermentation, this year about a week later, we punch down the cap of grape skins that rises up in the bin (think bread dough rising).

Once fermentation is going in earnest, the cap rises nearly to the top of the fermenter and things warm up significantly. This year temperatures rise to the low 90sF. Here you can see the thermometer reading about 84F.

The view from above a bin, the punchdown tool in the fermenting must and the telltale visual of fermentation, foam, rising through the hole made in the cap. The cap of grape skins can be a foot thick or more in these 1.5 ton fermenters, and they are tough to punch through at the peak of fermentation. As things wind down, the cap softens and things are easier to mix.

Here's Armstrong grower Doug Ackerman lending a hand with the punchdown tool.

Things are more than busy in any winery at harvest time. Still, there are moments of reflection, especially on a beautiful evening when you know you'll be working late.

And things frequently go late. Bin after bin of grapes to be sorted. Then everything to clean up, only to get dirty again the next day.

Mornings are the time to check the fermenters, using a strainer to get new wine to test for sugar level, temperature and acidity. And senory evaluation, meaning smelling, tasting and of course spitting, to see how much tannin is in the wine, among other things to watch for.

Here's a beautiful shot of pinot blanc destined for another label fermenting, the bubbles of carbon dioxide sparkling like stars. Stars that smell like guava. Space like that would be nice, no?

When fermentation is done, it's time to drain fermenters. Here is one of the Armstrong bins three weeks after picking and processing. Using a sieve, the new wine is pumped into another bin to settle for a few days, the grape skins scooped out to smaller bins that can be dumped into the press.

Here's that wine being pumped into the settling bin.

Here are the grape skins dumped by forklift into the press.

About 80% of red wine from a fermenter is "free run," meaning it is liquid you can draw off the skins without any work. The other 20% is "press wine" that comes from squeezing the skins. Here's the press pan full of press wine, much cloudier than the free run wine for all the solids pressed out along with the wine.

After a few days of settling, the final task is putting the new wine in barrels. Once everything is in barrel, harvest is essentially done. Here's a tag on one of the iron barrel racks that needed some repainting to protect against rust before barrel filling.

The barrels get cleaned and filled with wine, stacked by fork lift and stored for a year or more of ageing. Harvest is now done, and never a moment too soon. It's November and time to begin looking forward to the coming year.

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