Things are moving so fast around here. One day we receive grapes the next day its going in for residual sugar checks, (so it seems). All of a sudden it is in barrels and needs malolatic fermentation tests run on it. Suddenly its back in a tank. The barrel room is basically a labyrinth. New walls of barrels are moving back and forth. Rows are created and then taken down. One thing I have learned is that 3 guys on forklifts can move a lot of barrels in a very short amount of time. The wheel is still spinning around although it seems its spinning a little slower. We will see for how long. Tanks are still getting the usual treatment of Rack and returns and pump overs. However, less and less are needed. Next week we are picking what remains on the vines. Well, most of it anyways there are still some grapes out there that can hang out for a little while. That does not mean Harvest is almost over. Maybe the harvest picking part is over but there is still plenty to do around here. To be honest I am not sure how this puzzle is going to fit together. Let me explain, we have red wine going into a warm room for malolatic fermentation or what is known as secondary fermentation. That room is filling up fast. The Chardonnay are going through primary fermentation rather quickly. Which means they will need to get malolatic bacteria and go into that room soon. When a wine finishes second fermentation it goes back into a tank to get it off all the dead yeasts at the bottom. The barrels are cleaned, then the wine goes right back to barrel and stored for a while. So we will have wine going into barrel that has finished primary fermentation, wine coming out of a barrel going right back after secondary fermentation. And thousands of barrels that will be moving from one room to another then again to another room all in a matter of weeks. Not to mention the Chardonnay going through sur lie aging, which is allowing the wine to sit on the lees for while. I will get into more detail on this later. For now it has been a long long long past few weeks. and its time for me to go home.
Six days out of the week. I wake up in my sleep. Before the sun rises rubb my blurry eyes. Gettin ready in a sleepy slumber, just a job I tell myself but its a bummer. I jump into my car, I really dont have that far. Driving down the road I barely see a soul. I drink my coffee from my cup, just to keep myself awake thats how much I need a break. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they always go so slow. Thursday blows my mind, half way left to go. Friday is easy its just beyond my grasp. Saturday is the new friday I thought I would never last. Reality has a hold on me and it wont let go. I work all day and I try to save still there is nothing to show. What I wouldnt do to be unemployed rich and free. Someday I will wait and see not a thing to worry me. No more out late and night, I am waking up before the light. Is that really right? Or is my future painted bright?
I look at the dial against my will. Time seems to stand still. Mean while my mind is drifting far a way to a place where work is missing. I dream of a simple life without a care, I click three times but I am not thereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Tank shoveling can be dirty business. Perhaps it is the most physical job in the winery. It requires crawling inside a dark, humid, wet, stinky tank and shoveling the contents out. No doubt shoveling wet berries, stems, and seeds is hard. However, being inside the tank you are standing in about 3-4 feet of fermented grape skins. The tank is wet and slippery its almost impossible to get solid footing. Once again the only way to get the contents out is through a small gate in the front of the tank. If this is not bad enough the fermented must is full of carbon dioxide, making the tank an oxygen deficient environment. Great precautions are taken when entering a tank of fermenting must. The tank is ventilated with a fan, the air is tested with air quality sensors, and a harness with oxygen sensors are worn by the person entering the tank. Another person known as the “attendant” waits outside with a large “hook” in case a person passes out inside the tank. The lack of oxygen causes a person to fatigue much quicker then usual when shoveling.Thankfully I survived to shovel another day. Here is a look inside a tank and a few shots of before and after. Special thanks to Rocha for the pleasant interview before risking my life.
When the juice finally ferments to below 0.01 residual sugars, the “Must” is pressed. This process involves many steps. First of all the juice (we can officially call it wine at this point.) Is drained into another tank. What is leftover is all the skins and seeds that have been soaking in fermenting juice for about a week. This is when the fun starts. We shovel out the seeds and stems into a macro bin. This is only a small tank so most of the must can be reached from our little gate here.
All you have to work with.
On the bigger tanks somebody has to crawl inside to shovel out the must. On the largest tanks we have, (they hold about 45 tons of grape skins and seeds) we play a little game. If you can shovel it out in under 1 hour the company will buy you lunch. Needless to say this creates a very competitive atmosphere. I will keep you posted on the times when those get shoveled out.
Once all of the must is shoveled out it goes into a press. At first the press lightly squeezes the berries and gets any leftover wine out of them. That wine is pumped into its own special tank. Next, we crank up the pressure and really squeeze whatever might be left in the berries out. Since the berries and seeds have all the tannins, squeezing them produces really tanic dark wine. This juice is again pumped into its own special tank to keep all those tannins out of our nice clean wine. Later, if the winemaker chooses to, he will add little bits and pieces of these “pressed” wines to the “free run” wine until it reaches the desired tastes and texture. Things are fermenting well and moving really fast. Yesterday we drained and pressed about 10 tanks. Its a lot of hard work but somebody has to do it. As of the end of September we have received a total of 1344 tons of grapes. That breaks down into 466 tons in white grapes and 878 tons of red grapes. Only 2506 tons to go.
Here is the wheel at the end of the day. It’s all clean and ready to get dirty again tomorrow. It’s been a long week. Monday will mark the start of an even longer week for us. For now it’s time to go home and get a days rest.
Its a hot Saturday afternoon and most of us have worked 12 hour days all week. Today is no exception. The crew looks ready for a day off. Its a smaller crew today since the night shift takes Saturday off, leaving the morning crew with a lot of work. But Sunday will be our one glorious day of rest. Here is a quick spin around the “wheel” This is where all the magic happens. We call it the wheel because the center is wide open and all the tanks go off of it like spokes on a wheel. Underneath is where the presses are in what we like to call “the Pit” I will venture down in the pit another day for now its back to the wheel for some more action.
Its 5am and its time to check the sugar levels of the juice. Soon it should all be wine. As you can tell is a lovely, foggy, Napa morning. Today marks 1/3 of the way through harvest. Its going to be a busy, busy, busy next few weeks.
Racked and returned
Here is a fellow worker doing whats called a Rack and Return on one of the tanks. This is usually done towards the middle of fermentation. The juice is pumped from one tank to another. Allowing the “cap” (all the grape skins and seeds that float on top of the juice) to drop to the bottom of the tank. The juice is then pumped back into the original tank over the top of the skins and seeds. This will break up the cap allowing for more color and flavor in the finished wine. This is also a great way of mixing up any adds such as yeast or acids. The rest of the day this tank will get pump overs to keep the cap wet.
We have officially kicked off Harvest 2012. On 9/19/12 we had a total of 14 tanks going through primary fermentation. All white grapes. One week later, 9/26/12 a total of 47 tanks are going through primary fermentation. A great mix of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and light loads of Chardonnay and Petite Syrah. Everyday more tanks are being filled and everyday new fermentation’s start. This is only the beginning. We are still waiting for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. As well as, the bulk of Chardonnay and the rest of the Pinot and Zinfandel. All of them are expected to be picked within the next two weeks.
The grapes keep coming in. The tanks are filling up. The pumps are moving the juice from here to there. Hoses are connected, disconnected, and reconnected. The sweet smell of yeast is filling the air. CO2 is steaming out the tops of tanks. Presses are turning. A tank is emptied cleaned and refilled. Acid and nutrients are added. Lees is being filtered. The walkways and in between tanks are being cleaned of grape debris. Pump over lines are being sterilized. The sun comes up… The sun goes down.