It’s the end of a long week. And after a day of slamming my shin into a rung on a latter, and shoveling the slipperiest tank imaginable, I had to laugh a little when I saw the white limousine in front of me, on the drive home, roll down the rear window to allow one of its patrons to, well, evacuate the excess wine that had built up in their system. I’m sorry for laughing, and feel better whoever you are…
P.S. If that was Napa Cellars wine that would have never happened.
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.
After another 12 plus hour day consisting of mostly “rack and returns” which Jacob has already explained about. (although he did fail to mention how a rack and returns’ worst enemy is a white t-shirt. Unfortunately for me a white t-shirt was all that was clean this morning. Having not performed a rack and return so far this season I thought I might escape, but I was incorrect.Aftermath of a Rack and Return
Also I forgot to bring an extra shirt to go to the gym in. And nothing makes you more popular at the gym than having a strong smell of vinegar, yeast, and tartaric acid, as well as looking as though you have vomited on yourself.
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.