JOURNEY TO HARVEST…AND BEYOND!
Our 35th harvest! What could possibly go wrong?
By Squire Fridell
Harvest is the most exhilarating time of the year in the lives of both the farmer and the winemaker, no matter how many harvests you’ve experienced. It’s also the most exhausting. If you are a farmer who sells his grapes and you have picked the last of your fruit in the darkness of night and then delivered that last bin of grapes, you are done for the year. If you are a winemaker who just had grapes delivered at dawn, you’ve just started. Here at GlenLyon, we do both, so it’s a very busy time. And there were a few hiccups along the way…
What kind of hiccups?
First up: timing! Normally, harvest at GlenLyon lasts about six weeks, with grapes coming in from our two estate vineyards plus five off-site vineyards, thus nicely spacing out our work. Our lighter grapes, Viognier and Chardonnay, usually arrive first, oft-times playing tag team as to which will come in first.
There’s usually a bit of a break before Pinot Noir comes in, followed by Estate Syrah and Grenache for our Rosé, followed by Estate Syrah, then Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, with two or three smaller lots from our off-site growers bringing up the rear.
Harvest 2021, however, turned out a bit topsy-turvy and those six weeks turned into two short, very frenetic weeks. Strangely, Pinot Noir was first to the finish line, followed two days later by both white varieties, with everything else coming in within a few days. Six weeks worth of work all condensed into two short weeks …
Why is that a problem?
Good question! If the grapes arrive as they should, one vineyard’s fruit should be finishing primary fermentation in one of our four 931-gallon stainless tanks just as the next batch arrives to replace it. Perfect! But this year, because everything seemed to come in at the same time, we had to scurry to find fermentation vessels, as no tanks were empty. Fortunately, we have a number of small, open-top, one-ton bins (called T-bins) and Flextanks (300-gallon plastic containers) for fermentation vessels.
What’s wrong with fermenting in T-bins and Flextanks?
Nothing, except that it simply creates more work for us. Instead of checking sugars and making our additions and adjustments in one big tank, we have to do all that multiple times, because each of those smaller vessels will ferment at its own speed. Grapes processed at dawn are much colder (slowing fermentation) than warmer grapes processed at noon (speeding up fermentation). We need to find ways to warm some bins up and cool some others down. So, we forklifted all the bins and tanks, hauling them outside during the day to warm the fruit up and bringing them inside at night to cool down the fruit. It simply means a lot more work for us.
Any new equipment this year?
Glad you asked! Wife Suzy’s pre-Christmas present(s) this year was “her” new de-stemmer unit(s), and we used them to de-stem our Pinot Noir fruit (our earliest Pinot harvest date on record). That first day of harvest is always exciting! Those tons of beautiful Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir grape clusters were delivered and weighed, and then traveled up our elevator and dropped into Suzy’s present. As usual, our trusty crew, friends, and family stood along the sides of the elevator to pick out and discard anything that shouldn’t go into the tank to ferment (everything from leaves to a very-dazed lizard!). We call that discarded stuff “MOG” (Material Other than Grapes). The elevator then drops those fruit clusters into our new nifty de-stemmer.
Why did you need a new destemmer?
We didn’t, except that our old de-stemmer/crusher, purchased in 2001, was considered state-ofthe- art twenty years ago, and there have been a lot of improvements in twenty years. We want to be able to de-stem the Pinot Noir fruit clusters without crushing the berries. It’s called “whole-berry fermentation” and it preserves the delicate nature of the Pinot Noir fruit. All the ducks seemed to be in a row, but …
But???? Was there a problem with The new de-stemmer?
Yep. Three separate machines work the new de-stemmer package and, even though they were all purchased six months ago, only two of the three machines showed up. The third and final piece, the collector bin and pump, somehow missed the boat and was MIA somewhere between Italy and Glen-Lyon. It took 1,479 phone calls and emails, but it finally arrived at the port of Oakland two days before we needed it. Yippee! All three pieces of equipment finally arrived, just in time for the first day of harvest.
Not quite. During the de-stemming of the Pinot Noir, the Grape-Sort, our second piece of the new equipment, did not appear to work “as advertised.” The very involved and explicit directions were written in Italian, and (despite Google Translate) I couldn’t read it. But I remembered that if something isn’t working as it should, it’s usually “operator error.” So, I found a video of the unit in operation (Google it: “GrapeSort”) and realized I had the sorting bar installed backward. Yippee! Problem solved.
That was only the first day of harvest. As soon as we cleaned all three of Suzy’s Christmas present(s), we set up our bladder press for both the Chardonnay and Viognier. Two days later, at 6 a.m., the fruit from both those vineyards arrived at GlenLyon, but we were ready and waiting!
Anything go wrong?
It sure did. Our 10-year-old bladder press — and, yes, we just had it tuned-up with a new bladder installed — literally blew up after being loaded with 2.8 tons of beautiful Chardonnay clusters. I was standing at the control panel of the press during its first press cycle when the transmission suddenly locked and the three-wide link 70” chain exploded. The excruciating noise was something akin to a car crash, and as the machine locked the 2.8 tons of fruit inside the huge machine dropped to the opposite side, causing the entire press to “lurch” sideways about three feet (even though the wheel brakes were engaged). Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the machine was locked up with 2.8 tons of Chardonnay inside and it was inoperable.
Your press broke? What did you do?
Two things. First item: Order a new transmission (weight was 200 lbs) from Italy and have it airfreighted (really cheap!) ASAP to GlenLyon; second item: Find someone with a press that was available and might allow us to press our fruit at their winery.
Our neighbor Jeffrey Mayo, of Mayo Family Winery, rode to the rescue. When I called to ask if his press was available to press our fruit, without hesitation, he said, “Bring ’em over,” and that’s what we did.
We climbed inside the press and unloaded the tons of fruit into half-ton macro bins and transported it all to Mayo for pressing. In total, we spent three days at Mayo Winery pressing our first three wines. We got all three pressings done just in time for the new transmission to arrive from Italy. It was installed the following day, and it took two technicians one eight-hour day to do the work.
What else could go wrong?
Just two “little” items … The electrical three-phase converter All of our equipment is converted to “three-phase power” (don’t ask), and there was a “burning smell” coming from our electrical converter three days ago.
It’s a big unit and when you raise the lever and turn it on, the start-up sounds like something from Frankenstein’s laboratory. After shutting down and disassembling the wall-mounted control housing, we discovered one of the four resistor-capacitors (don’t ask) decided to burn out. So, we had to wait for a replacement to be overnight air-freighted in from the East Coast. At least it didn’t have to come (this time) from Italy, and it arrived yesterday (overnight air freight is not cheap!), and it is now installed. All systems “Go!”
The tank heater
Our four stainless fermentation tanks are all jacketed and filled with glycol (a foodgrade antifreeze), so we can either heat up the tank walls or cool them down to control fermentation speed. Our tank cooler was working well, but the tank heater decided that 2021 was the year it would go on strike and refuse to work. As I type this, it is in the shop being repaired. We even resorted to using foot-long fish-tank heaters (unused, obviously!) to get things warmed up to begin fermentation!
Got some good news?
Fortunately, the grapes were oblivious to any of the above problems, and the smells coming from the winery right now are a joy! The infant-stage wines taste pretty nifty right now, and it appears that vintage 2021 will produce some great wines from GlenLyon!
Whew! It is definitely time for a glass of some fine Sonoma Valley wine! Hope you’ll join us by raising a glass to Harvest 2021!