Ramble On

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Harvest at Wisteria - part 3

There had been plenty to learn on the first day at the vineyard, and there was plenty to learn as we moved to the second day’s activities as well.  We started a little later, too, and I’m sure that helped my keen eye for detail.

The first step is to set up the wine press, which uses an air-filled blatter to squeeze out all the grape juice.  The machine assembles pretty easily – it has to, since it is taken apart and cleaned between every batch.  Some special cheese cloth is used to line the press, to keep the grapes from exploding out of the small crevices that are designed for the juice to flow out of.

Each tub goes through this hour-long process, with the bladder gradually filling to about 70 psi.  Juice flows freely from the press into tubs that collect it; and from there, is pumped into the tanks in the cellar where it will ferment – Wisteria often uses steel tanks for the white varieties and oak barrels for the reds. 

One of the risks of using volunteers, and also newbie volunteers, is the introduction of variation to the process.  So I’ve described above a routine that must be carefully followed so that everything goes smoothly.  Except that it didn’t on batch number two.

On that one, the cheese cloth lining wasn’t positioned with the necessary overlap around the little seal at the front.  Eventually, as the pressure climbed when the bladder inflated…well, I had taken Tessie out for a walk in the vines and wasn’t around to see this happen, but I understand that there was a shower of crushed grapes.  Fortunately, there weren’t any volunteers or workers standing in front of that spot – but it was a near miss.

I did see the aftermath, and I was really impressed by the range and altitude that the spent grapes had achieved – they were up in the ten foot rafters of the crush pad, and they covered a good twenty feet or so of the wall, which was eight feet away from the press.  The event left a strong impression on everybody who’d been there for it – they couldn’t stop talking about it.  I was sorry I missed it.

We learned to break down the press and clean it, and after this little surprise, we reloaded the partially crushed grapes into the press to finish the job.  Eventually there were four pressings, counting the malfunction.

After they’re pressed, the spent grapes are removed from the press.  In this condition, they are mortared together and can stand on their own in a shape called “the cake.”  It has a very interesting texture and actually takes a bit of work to dispose of – we dumped the grapes into the bucket of Moussa’s tractor, where it was hauled off to the compost heap.

I did take a couple of handfuls and toss them to the chickens.

With the juice collected and moved over to ferment in the cellar, the work on the Seyval harvest was done.  I have some other material that I have collected about the experience that I will put up over the next few days, but this series has pretty much outlined the front end of the annual winemaking process – the harvest.

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