Caitlin – October 10th, 2012
Let’s begin where we left off: Robert and I, looking at each other, with fear in our eyes. My palms were sweating. My mouth was dry. I can’t speak for Robert, but I have to assume he was experiencing similar physiological symptoms of stress.
We were getting our 100 pounds of Vidal Blanc grapes, but without any way to properly handle them, by immediately pressing them into juice, what good were they?
We stood in silence. For how long? A minute? An hour? Ten hours? It felt like ten hours.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned that Dr. Bob was a dentist before he retired to work in his vineyard full-time. Having been a dentist, I think he must be used to people panicking in his immediate vicinity. He cleared his throat and said, “I know you’ll want to press the white right away. If you want, you can use my press. Someone rented it out this afternoon, but I can let you use it for an hour or two.” Now, for the second time, I was resisting the urge to hug Dr. Bob. I suppose a theme is forming. Don’t worry Robert, nothing’s going on there. Dentists are as terrifying as thirsty bees. Side note: there’s definitely a poem/song/bumper sticker in there somewhere. Must send blast e-mail to Random House, Atlantic Records, and whoever makes bumper stickers to gauge interest. Who makes bumper stickers, anyway?
We made our way from the field up to Dr. Bob’s barn to crush and press our white grapes and crush our red grapes. Now we only had to solve the problem of space.
As Rob mentioned, we had planned to use 1-gallon jugs of frozen water (technical term: ice) to cool down the must.
That’s why you saw us carefully placing them in our fermenters. We scrapped the ice-cube plan (code name: “Titanic!”) to accommodate more juice and fruit. It was sad because the code name was so awesome. This gave us just enough room to fit our pressed white grape juice in one fermenter and split the crushed red grapes amongst the remaining four – two for our Cabernet Franc and two for our Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, you can see our full red grape fermenters pictured at right. Lesson learned: it’s always good to have a plan, but don’t get too attached to that plan. Would we have ideally kept our product on ice the entire ride home? Yes. Will it significantly impact us one way or another at the end of this process? Probably not.
For those of you that are new to winemaking, I am going to get sort of technical. Or, as I like to say, we are going to cover some science stuff.
Red grapes and white grapes are both crushed immediately after harvest. By crushed (technical term), I mean they are passed through a crusher/de-stemmer. This machine, pictured below, is used to first crush the wine grapes and then separate the grapes from the stems. The crushed red grapes stay in their fermenters for a period of time before pressing (look for an upcoming post from Robert), while white grapes need to be pressed immediately. Dr. Bob has always graciously allowed us to use his on-site crusher/de-stemmer. So, we knew even before we arrived that we were prepared for that part of the process.
The press extracts the juice from the crushed grapes. The pressure must be controlled to avoid crushing the seeds – and tannins – into the wine. For you wine aficionados out there, who know that tannins are typically considered a good thing, let me clarify that tannin is found in the skin, seeds, and stems of the grapes. It is desirable to ferment red wine while it is still contact with these parts of the grape, particularly the skin. However, the tannin in the seeds of grapes is very acidic and bitter. You want to avoid pressing the grapes to a point where the seeds are breaking or splitting and “seed tannin” (I might have made up that term – just FYI) is coming into contact with your wine. If you’ve ever had a wine that made your mouth pucker, over pressing the wine was a possible contributing factor.
Robert and I left Dr. Bob’s with a car full of pressed white grape juice and crushed red grapes. And this concludes my three-part mini-series on the 2012 crush. I will leave you with three fun facts*:
1. A significant portion of the available juice within the grape can be released by the crushing process and doesn’t require the use of the press. This is referred to as the free-run juice. It is highly desirable, due to the aforementioned challenges that come along with pressing and over pressing. Some winemakers use only free-run juice to make their wines (Snowden Vineyards), while others keep the free run and the pressed juice separate from each other until the final blending and bottling (Philip Togni). That having been said, pressed juice has its own unique body, flavors, and aromas that can be beneficial to the final wine. The decision on how to handle free-run vs. pressed juice is a stylistic choice on the part of the winemaker and is not necessarily a reflection on quality.
2. The dried-out, compressed grape patty left over after you are done pressing is referred to as the cake or grape pomace. Our Vidal Blanc cake is pictured below. Back in the day (I mean way back), the temporary workers (a.k.a peasants) hired to press grapes would be given the cake as payment**. It could and can be used to make pomace wine. Today, grape pomace is used as animal feed,
fertilizer, or can even be used to produce grapeseed oil and biodiesel fuel***.
3. Our winemaking book told us that our pressed white would look like dirty dish water. The book was correct.
*It is possible that you and I have very different definitions of fun facts.
**If you want to come and help us, we would totally give you the cake as payment. Ask yourself: how bad could pomace wine really be, anyway?
***Wine-powered car? Best car ever. My car and I would be fueled by the same thing! I like that.