We can’t wait to tell you about the status of our first vintage!
Monday, October 20, 2014 started off early for Lisa and I as we scrambled around to get everything ready for our big Press Day. Our Syrah grapes from Sonoma (technical term is MUST) were done fermenting and all of the sugar had been converted to alcohol. We started off with very ripe grapes and the more sugar you start with, the higher the alcohol will be in the end; now we have a “big boy red” wine. Tastes great and packs a punch. The next step was to press the grapes and separate the liquid from the solids.
It’s funny how when you take a class and the instructor (thanks G. at Curds and Wine) tells you to do steps one, two and then three, how easy everything is, but when you have to do it all yourself, well, a lot of decisions need to be made.
For example, once the wine is pressed you have to get it into the barrel, and the question is how. Stainless steel wine pumps are very expensive ($3000 to $12,000 or more) and I needed a less expensive solution. I found a little pump at Home Depot but it was filled with grease and was NOT an option. So an unexpected high speed dash to Temecula for a small potable water pump started the morning off.
Once I got back the next step was to start re-hydrating the barrels since they were dry when I bought them. Using De-chlorinated hot water we partially filled the barrels and soaked the heads of the barrels for about 2 hours, then flipped them over and soaked the other head. Any small leak in the beginning soon disappeared and we were happy to have three non-leaking barrels filled with wine now.
Then we started the sanitation process. Everything that the wine would touch needed to be cleaned and sanitized which included tubs, buckets, the press, tools, pumps, hoses, any and everything else you could think of including hands over and over again. We had buckets of sanitizer, hoses and cords everywhere.
Lisa became our sanitation guard, she put out tubs of sanitizer and anyone who stopped by got the lecture on germs, she stayed on top of it and she didn’t let any bugs ( bacterial spoilage organisms) sneak in on her watch.
Then we began the pressing process. Twenty-five hundred pounds of fermented must was bucketed over to the press which only held a few buckets worth. In total we had about 10 press runs and each one took about 50 minutes. Once the must is in the press, water pressure is used to squeeze the grapes against the perforated sides of the press and the wine runs out. What goes in, must come out either in liquid or solid form.
After each press cycle the basket is removed (very heavy), the solids (technical term is pomace) are disposed of (unless you want to make Grappa) and the process starts over again.
Thank you to everyone who came by or wrote back to us. It was great seeing you and sorry we were so busy, sticky and stained from head to foot.
Thanks Sarah for taking these pictures since Lisa was a bit busy and Kevin for all your help and your truck. I want to especially thank all of you who kindly took a bag of pomace home and put it in your trash. It is messy, heavy and stains anything it touches. Two days later my hands are still stained dark purple/black in color. Fact: The big wineries often give pomace to farmers as cow food, and since there is a lot of alcohol in the skins we have “California Happy Cows”, at least according to the advertisers.
Finally, we ended up with just under three filled barrels. Each barrel holds 225 liters or 59 gallons which is equal to about 300 bottles or about 1500 glasses of wine. Right now the wine is very young and a little harsh. While it sits in the barrels it will age and smooth out (just like life). Over time some of the alcohol and wine will evaporate out producing the “angels share”.
In about one month, I will be racking the wine from one barrel to the other. This will remove many of the solids that got through the press making the wine turbid (cloudy due to partials), so be on the lookout for the next update.
Every month or so, each barrel is also checked to make sure everything is fine. The barrels are filled to the brim to reduce ullage (a technical term which means the space filled with air in a barrel that can spoil a wine by turning it into vinegar) and of course the winemaker MUST sample the wine. So I wonder how much goes to the angels and how much goes to the winemaker? Time will tell.
Depending upon how the wine is aging, we will be bottling in anywhere between 6 months and 18 months. I will send out a blast when we get close to bottling time for those who want to help.
If you ever have a question about our first vintage, wine, wine making, life or anything else and want to get together, our door is always open and we would love to see you.
Raise a Glass and Cheers,
Darius and Lisa