A thrilling and exhausting week it was! I had some of my first 10 hour days and we saw the first obvious signs that fermentation has begun. Harvest is a big, messy chaos of receiving and processing fruit, managing fermenting fruit, cleaning incessantly, and still dealing with all the other daily tasks of a small winery such as bottling 100 cases of 2013 wine and cleaning 94 oak barrels.
The most exciting aspect of all this is the daily arrival of new grapes. We received and processed nearly 20 tons of grapes this week! As the black grapes come into the winery, the individual berries are removed from the stems and then they are placed into large vessels for fermentation. The grapes just hang out for a few days and then you begin to see obvious signs that fermentation is beginning. Bubbles develop and the fermenter begins to warm up...nice on our cool, foggy mornings! This is where things are with the estate fruit that was the very first to come in last week. We even had one tank with overflowing yeasty froth. The froth tastes like a spritzy sort of sweet, tart candy! We also started punch downs on the fermenters this week.
As the yeast begin to ferment the sugar in the juice, the grapes that are still whole rise to the top of the fermenting vessel pushed up by the yeast creating carbon dioxide. The skins on the top need to be kept moist to prevent microbial growth and to be sure to get all the color, flavors, and tannins desired from the grape skins. To perform a punch down you use a tool made of hollow stainless steel that has a dinner plate sized disc at the bottom of the handle. It also has two handles coming out the sides. You place the disc on the top of the skins and...push...until the disc breaks down to the looser, more juicy lower layers. This is hard work and sometimes you have to step on the middle handles to push it through the dense grapes. Then you pull it up, heavy with a layer of wet fruit from the lower part of the fermenter, and start over again, inch by inch, until the entire upper layer has been punched down and the top of the fermenter is all covered with wet grapes again. Initially this is done once a day and eventually it increases to four times a day. With all of our large fermenters now full, and many of our smaller ones too, punching down can take over an hour now. It can only be described as a labor of love!