October 12 – 13, 2012
Here is a disclaimer right off the bat- we broke our cardinal rule when posting these updates by not including any photos in this one. Unfortunately we didn’t take a single picture over the weekend! We will get better and will try our best not to do it again. If you have any interest in the basics of winemaking or the breweries of Sonoma county California, you may still find it interesting though.
We spent the weekend with our good friend, Ty who is currently working the harvest at Meeker Vineyard and invited us to spend the day with him making wine. After the tour and introductions, we waited for the grapes to be delivered from the fields and Ty explained the wine making process to us. In general, the process is pretty straight forward, grapes are harvested from their vines and crushed into a mash of juice, skins and seeds. The crushed fruit is chilled then eventually inoculated with yeast in fermentors. Large stainless steel tanks similar to beer brewing fermentors were used for large batches while open bins around 4 to 5 feet square were used for smaller runs. The fermentation process continues until the yeast is finished converting the sugars in the juice to alcohol, then the wine is aged and bottled. There are a ton of other small but important details that flesh out this process, such as monitoring and balancing pH and nitrogen.
While we continued to wait for the fruit to arrive, Ty and Chandler knocked down the “cap” of skins and other material that rises to the surface of the tanks during fermentation. In the bins of fermenting wine, this just involves shoving the grape parts to the bottom with a metal disk attached to a pole. The stainless steel tanks are too large to use this method, so instead a large pump is attached to an outlet at the bottom of the tank and a hose is run up to the top of the tank. The cap is knocked down by spraying wine from the bottom of the tank onto the cap essentially out of a firehose, which is pretty effective. The last tank we turned over was in the middle of rigorous fermentation and Chan took a pretty heavy blast of CO2 to the face, which burned his nose and eyes, not in a painful way but was very startling. The only analogy he could think of is putting your face in a giant cup filled with soda just dispensed from fountain.
After that project, the grapes arrived and we were able to participate in the crushing of a 2012 pettite sirah. Our job was mainly to pull leaves out of the grape clusters as they rode up a conveyor belt from the picking bin to a hopper above the actual crusher. We were also looking for moldy grapes and overly raisined clusters, but for the most part the grapes were in good shape. It was fast-paced, manual work, but it was fun, and fascinating to handle to grapes while they rode up to be crushed. After a few tons of grapes we were standing in a modest pile of leaves sticky with grape juice up to the elbows.
I admit, I was hoping we would be doing this:
But instead, it was like this:
Despite the let down, we had a lot of fun and are pretty much ready to start making world class wine also. The day ended on a high note with good food and beer at Bear Republic while watching the Tigers beat the Yankees!!
Chandler and Ty spent the next day drinking lots of beer in Sonoma County. We hit Lagunitas in Petaluma which is a pretty large brewery that takes pride in heavy hop use, then stopped in at the toad in the hole pub in Santa Rosa for a wet hop special event, where they tried a bunch of beers made with very fresh “wet” hops which produce a grassy, earthy taste to the beers they’re in. The last stop was to the relatively famous Russian River brewery which was absolutely slammed (Ty was right) but for good reason. I drove us 2 hours back to my parents and we fell asleep quickly after a very long day.
The winery sounded like such a great experience hope Chan is doing okay – wine vat crushing of the grapes is something that the town of Grapevine TX does for fun, that season is past already. I promise when you visit us all you will need is a glass to fill and I have plenty.
What a great experience.Sounds like fun.