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Journey to Harvest…and Beyond

Making red wine: Part 1
Journey to Harvest…and Beyond
Jeremy and Joe are exhausted after a day of wine production.Photo by Squire Friddel

 

By Squire Fridell

Our 2021 harvest is over!

Yippee! Our 35th harvest is officially over! Time to celebrate!

Interesting to note that the two words “harvest” and “crush” are sometimes thought to be the same thing, but they’re really not. “Harvest” is the generic word we use when we pick the grapes off the vines; whereas “crush” is traditionally the first day of processing those harvested grapes. Here at tiny GlenLyon, both the “harvest” and “crush” of grapes from a particular vineyard (or block) tend to happen on the same day.

These days, the word “crush” is kind of a misnomer. In the winemaking days of yesteryear, “crush” was a pretty accurate descriptor (“to squash, mash, or macerate”), but these days, we try to be as gentle with our grapes as possible. But since it’d sound silly to call the first day of grape processing “gentlypop- the-berries day,” we’ll call it “crush” for now.

What happens during “crush”?

Here at GlenLyon, the first grapes to arrive at the winery are usually the white varieties (viognier and chardonnay), followed by the lower vineyard grapes we use to make our rosé (syrah and grenache). Then, ten days to two weeks later, the red varieties will ripen (one at a time) and be perfect for harvest.

Having done this for 34 prior years, two days before harvest we set up the bladder press and all the equipment for processing the whites. But this year, Ms. Mother Nature (ask any grape farmer … she is very fickle) had a different plan for us, and announced that a red variety (Sonoma Coast pinot noir) was going to cross the finish line first. We removed all our preset white wine-making equipment and replaced it with all the hardware for red wine-making.

Since our pinot noir was first in line this year, let’s talk about the crush and how we make our red wines. For the sake of space (and my short attention span), this column is about everything that happens prior to the beginning of fermentation in red wine; in the next column we’ll deal with what will happen the moment fermentation begins.

So … there is a difference between making red wine and white wine?

There sure is … starting with a whole different set of equipment. After we set aside our white winemaking equipment, we cleaned, sterilized, and set up all our red wine-making hardware: the elevator, our new de-stemmer, the sorting table, the pumps, the hoses, and the tanks. (“Why a new de-stemmer?” you might ask? Read on!)

Pinot noir, like nearly all red grape varieties, has colorless pulp and juice inside those dark-skinned berries. As a result, instead of immediately pressing the juice off the skins (as we do with our whites and rosé), we de-stem the red clusters and then ferment the berries, juice, and pulp along with those red skins. Naturally, the longer we leave the pulp and juice on those color-laden skins, the darker the eventual wine will be.

What happens when the red grapes arrive at GlenLyon?

We begin our work in the early morning darkness and triple check all our equipment and fittings to make sure everything is working correctly. When red grapes arrive at the winery at dawn (it’s easier to make good wine if the fruit arrives cold), we use a forklift to take each macrobin off the truck or trailer.

After zeroing out our scale (an empty macrobin weighs 96+/- lbs), we weigh the fruit. After noting thenet weight of the fruit (usually between 850–950 lbs), I use the forklift to lift the macrobin into the winery and rotate it so the grape clusters will fall into our big (very clean) elevator hopper.

Net weight is very important, as our grower gets paid an agreed-upon price per ton. That weight will also dictate the grams (solids) or mL (liquid) of any nutrients we will add to the grapes, the fruit, and the juice. We generally figure one ton of grapes will equal somewhere around 160 gallons of finished wine.

Wife Suzy and our trusty crew (including family, friends, neighbors, and some unsuspecting visiting wine club members) are positioned on each side of the elevator to remove and discard any leaves or other MOG (Material Other than Grapes). The beautiful grape clusters then travel up our elevator and are dropped into our new de-stemmer, a brand-new super-dooper machine we only use for red wine production.

Why a new de-stemmer?

Our old de-stemmer/crusher was state of the art when we purchased it 20 years ago, but wine-making technology has greatly improved during the past two decades. Using our old machine, after de-stemming, the berries went through two rollers that “crushed” the de-stemmed berries … there was no other option.

Using the brand-new (very expensive) machine, I have two options: to only de-stem the berries, or to de-stem and then crush the berries. In the case of pinot noir, a delicate grape variety we’ve only been making into wine for two prior harvests, a recent innovation is to only de-stem the fruit. Thus, the purchase of Suzy’s early Christmas present: “her” new de-stemmer! But I digress …

After the stems are removed, the whole berries are then dropped onto a roller unit that will remove any MOG that might have been missed. Those berries drop into another hopper, ready to be pumped into one of our temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. Since we’d like the environment inside the tank to be free from any air (oxygen), we cover each tank with a sheet of a flexible plastic material called visqueen. Then we fill each tank with about 200 lbs of argon, a gas that’s both inert (doesn’t interact with the wine) and heavier than air, so it will keep any air (21% of air is oxygen) away from the top of the “must” (the skins, pulp, juice, and seeds). Air (oxygen) is an enemy to wine and it’s important to keep as much air away from the delicate fruit (and eventual) wine as possible.

The perfect volume of must for each of our 971-gallon tanks is 3.4 tons, as that allows two feet of “head space” (the empty tank area above the must). We need that “head space” so when fermentation is in full swing and the solids rise to the top, the tank won’t overflow. (No need to ask me how I know that ….)

Many winemakers choose to add yeast to begin the fermentation process, but here at GlenLyon, with our red varieties, we choose to only use the natural yeast inherently on the grape skins. Because of that, our fermentation process doesn’t begin immediately, and takes two or three days to even start. That also means the juice will be on those skins longer, until fermentation is completed. That additional skin contact also makes our red wines a bit darker.

What happens after fermentation begins?

Glad you asked! We’ll cover that in Part 2, in the Feb. 1 issue of the Kenwood Press!

Whew! Time for a glass of something red! Slainté M’hath! (“To your health;” Scottish Gaelic.)

Squire Fridell is the Winemaker, Vineyard Manager, CEO, CFO, COO, EIEIO, WINO & Janitor at GlenLyon Vineyards & Winery and Two Amigos Wines

 

Journey to Harvest…and BeyondJourney to Harvest…and Beyond Journey to Harvest…and BeyondJourney to Harvest…and BeyondJourney to Harvest…and Beyond

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