Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week 4: Happy Harvesting!

This week I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning tearing open my gifts with wide eyes and a happy grin... but only instead of Christmas it was harvest, and instead of presents I got grapes!

Now the fun (and by fun I mean work!) has really started. The moment we have all been waiting for: harvest! The weeks leading up until now have been all about preparing the winery for this time.

So here is how harvest works:
We arrive at the winery around 5 or 6am to see the crew in the selected vineyards picking the grapes. There is a lot of traffic- with cars, fork lifts, and tractors all dancing around each other to get the grapes from the field up to the winery. Bin by bin, the luscious Chardonnay grapes get poured onto a "sorting table". On the sorting table a few of us touch every single grape, picking out anything that does not look "good enough to eat," as the winemaker says. I enjoy the conversation that takes place during the many hours we spend here. We take out leaves, branches, pruning grapes, rotting grapes, etc. This truly is hand selected fruit, which not every winery does. From there, the grapes that make the cut go into the "crusher" and come running down a slide until they fall into a small tank, or tanquito as we call them.

Grapes being poured into press
The fork lift then lifts the small tank and dumps all of its contents into the "press". The press has a bladder on the inside which fills with air, pressing the grapes onto its sides, squeezing out all of that delicious juice. There are huge hoses attached to the press, so the juice instantly is sent over to a large stainless steel fermentation tank. But before the juice is sent to the tank, it must pass through a
screen which catches any seeds or skins from going into the tank. We have been processing anywhere from 9 to 15 tons per day!

McNeil, the winemaker, says "winemaking is all about making messes and then cleaning them up"! And boy, was he right! It takes longer to clean and sanitize after the picking of the grapes than this whole process. They like the winery to be very clean, and there cannot be a single grape left on the ground. After 15 tons, that's a difficult task!

With Bob Sessions, legendary
 winemaker for over 30 years
In addition to our new set of responsibilities with harvesting the grapes, I still need to do my other daily responsibilities, like vineyard sampling. I need to continue to sample grapes from other areas of the different vineyards on the estate so the winemakers can determine what is ready to be picked next. This greatly depends on the climate. The weather has been fluctuating a bit, going from very cool to a few days of pretty high heat. This is important to consider because higher heat climates mean that the sugars will rise in the grapes. And when the sugars rise to where the winemaker wants them, around 22 Brix (measurement of sugar in grapes), the grapes are ready to be picked. But when it cools down, the grapes return to their natural stages of ripening. I never knew I would ever be so interested in the weather!

Picture of juice coming out of press
before going into tanks
So the length of harvest varies depending on which parts of the vineyards are ready to be picked and when. Not all of the grapes will be ready at the same time, or even the same week. And we encourage them to take their time. No need to rush to the party, we want them to get ready and maybe even put some lipstick on. Typically we pick Chardonnay first and then Pinot Noir, because we want slightly higher sugars in the Pinot Noir grapes.

Everyday is really a surprise. The winemakers determine the picking schedule literally the day before, so I just need to be ready to be there at all times. This week I worked 6 days and 60 hours! And loved every minute of it (except the part where I have to clean drains).

                                                               Happy Harvesting everyone!

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