Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 7: Goodnight little grapes!

Alas, the grapes are all here! We were able to tuck each and everyone in and finally say goodnight, putting them to rest. Some were tucked into stainless steel tanks, some were tucked into barrels. The grueling three week harvest has come to an end.

Pumping wine from tank to barrels
All of the tanks have been inoculated and are pretty close to being a finished wine. The Pinot Noir tanks are already at -2 Brix, which means they are a completed dry wine, and the yeast has done its job of consuming the sugars. The Chardonnay still has some work to do, as those were the last grapes we picked so they have not yet completed fermentation. As each tank of Pinot was deemed finished, we put lids on them, sealing them up so the wine does not have contact with oxygen. Each morning we take a nitrogen machine and pump nitrogen into the tanks, pushing out any oxygen.

Laura and I with our tanquette of rose
During the Pinot Noir harvest, a large amount of juice was being released from the grapes onto the sorting table, which was caught into buckets. With the permission from the winery, Laura (the other intern who studies viticulture and enology at UC Davis) and I were able to create our very own wine, a rosé! A rosé can be the juice collected from red wine grapes such as Pinot Noir. The reason the wine made from Pinot Noir is so dark is because of the time is spends in contact with its skins. Since this juice was collected at the sorting table, it had a limited maceration, thus making it the perfect candidate for a rosé! Rosé wines are light in body, have a beautiful pink hue, and are often sweet. We chose the yeast, inoculated the juice, and have been keeping a close eye on it throughout fermentation. It is being kept in a small, 60 gallon stainless steel "tanquette". The rosé will not be for sale, but we will have about 30 cases of it after it is bottled for our own consumption and sharing! A rosé made from Hanzell Pinot Noir... not too shabby for an intern!

To celebrate the end of Harvest, we had a huge dinner with everyone from the production staff and vineyard office. It was so great to look back on the hundreds of hours of hard work and say "we did it"! The winemaker gave Laura and I a very nice toast, and made us feel really appreciated. Now that the hardest part is over, I will still be here for one more month to continue the winemaking process.

If the grapes are in, what's next, one may ask. Well, there is still a lot to do. This wine isn't going to make itself, after all. The next step is transferring wine from tank to barrel. For the Pinot Noir, once it has gone dry, (hit -2 Brix), we drain the juice from the tanks and press off the pummus. Remember that Pinot Noir goes through maceration, so all of it's skins are inside those tanks. We put the cap of skins inside the same press which we use for Chardonnay. This wine is considered "press wine" and has a bit of a gritty texture and is more tannic in taste but will eventually be racked off and used in the final blending.

Speaking of final blending... Although I was not technically a part of the Hanzell 2011 Harvest, I am sort of a part of the final blend. Now that the wine has been in barrel for a year, the winemakers are  analyzing the different barrels to determine which ones will be in their Ambassador's Blend. The Ambassador's Blend is a wine produced from a single vineyard, and at Hanzell we have five, so this makes the choice difficult. But once the winemakers choose which vineyard they want to use, next they have to go through each barrel, determining which nose and taste they prefer so they can decide which percent of each they want in the blend. I was very pleased to be a part of the tasting panel. This is a really interesting experience, which I sometimes have mixed emotions about. I am very excited and grateful to be a part of the process, but it also is a bit stressful and mentally and sensory exhausting. It is amazing to examine the differences in the wine that each barrel cooper makes. One would smell of tropical fruits and pina colladas, while the next would smell of butterscotch and kettle corn. During these tastings, not only do we discuss the sensory effects like aroma and taste but also more specifically how the samples feel across your palate: entry, mid palate, texture, structure, body and finish. Tasting six wines usually takes about two hours, so one can imagine how detailed these tastings can become.

I also got to add a new assignment to my lab work; measuring the level of alcohol in our wines. I thought this was really interesting because I have always been curious as a consumer about the mysterious "14%" or "13.5%" on my wine bottles. At Hanzell, which has the second oldest lab still in use in the entire country, we use an ebulliometer.

Here is the process for measuring the level of alcohol:
First I ignite a wick at the bottom of the contraption and place my sample in and cover it with a thermometer, filling the small chamber with cold distilled water. I let the sample heat until I have its boiling point. The first sample I run is with water, because I need the boiling point of H2O in order to calculate and converge the boiling point of wine into the percentage of alcohol.  This must be done several times in between wine samples because the boiling point of water is constantly changing due to atmospheric changes. This has soon become my favorite lab work, earning me the title of "Alcohol Queen"!

Winemaking is truly a juggling act. When one difficult task such as harvesting grapes is complete, there are 10 more things that need to be added to your plate. It is a job that encompasses chemistry, mathematics, people skills, physical labor, agriculture, sensory analysis and so much more. Take a moment and let your mind wonder what hard work went into your next glass of wine. Cheers!

Tasting through 24 tanks of fermenting Pinot Noir

No comments:

Post a Comment