A Photo Essay of Crush: White Wine

This is how we make wine in Napa...

Ok- just kidding. That's how they make wine in Sonoma. (A little wine country humor.) I took this picture today watching the grape stomping contest at the Sonoma Vintage Festival. It is one of my favorite events of the season, despite the fact it was 100 degrees in the shade in the Sonoma Plaza today.

The idea to create a photo essay on the grape harvest has been floating around in the back of my mind since I blogged about the Blessing of the Grapes. I started taking pictures of the crush process on that day, but I guess the blessing hadn't had enough time to soak in. No sooner had they cranked up the switches and started the conveyor line and de-stemmer, when some other thingamabob (I'm a whiz with the technical terms) stopped working and they shut the line down. I didn't get to take any more pictures that day.

But fear not my friends. The winemaking staff fixed the doohickey and crush was off and running. It started in fits and spurts, picking up speed as the grapes on the vine started to ripen. As of Friday 9/25/09 they were done with Sauvignon Blanc, finishing up the last of the Chardonnay grapes and expecting to work feverishly for the next two weeks on Cabernet grapes. I took some great pictures of crushing both reds and whites, but lets start with the whites since the process is a bit simpler.

Most grapes are picked at night to keep the fruit fresh and to spare the picking crews from the heat of the day. I don't have the right camera equipment (ok, really I didn't want to get up at 3 am) to get good shots of the picking process, but lucky for us the Napa Valley Register just published this mini-video of crews picking at night.
The trucks start bringing in the full gondolas (a term for the large plastic containers that hold 1/2 ton) of grapes early in the morning. The winemaking staff starts between 6:00 and 7:00 am depending on how many tons they are expecting to arrive. The gondolas are unloaded from the trucks with forklifts and stacked for processing.

One at a time the gondolas are dumped into the initial hopper and the grapes start their journey along the sorting table. These grapes are Chardonnay.

The workers make sure the grape clusters are spread evenly and pick out any large items such as pieces of vine or large clumps of leaves that may have gone into the gondola with the grapes. Whole clusters are kept intact and they rise up the conveyor and tumble into the press.
Here's a shot showing the press.

The press full of grapes.

Once the press is full of grapes they rotate it and start to press very gently. The first juice that flows without using much pressure is called the "free run." It goes directly into the fermentation tank. The juice collects in a large tray below the press. I couldn't get a good shot of that, although it smelled delicious.

Additional pressings are tested and tasted for flavor and sugar content. As they press harder, successive runs of juice have harsher flavors. The juice from successive press runs that are considered unsuitable for the wine being made are kept separate and either go into lesser wines or are fermented and then sold on the bulk wine market to be made into another brand.

From here, the juice is pumped into a holding tank where it is inoculated with the yeast and fermentation begins.

The empty tank waiting for the pressed juice.

The winemaking staff continues this process until all the grapes picked the night before are crushed and in the tanks starting to ferment which often takes until late at night- think midnight onward. They finish by washing and sanitizing the equipment. When its all done for the day they go home, only to get up and start the whole process again at 7:00 am.

Coming up next: red wine crush


Key Elements for Sucessful Winery E-Commerce Strategy

I'm delighted to announce Practical Winery & Vineyard has published my article, "Key elements for successful winery e-commerce strategy" in their September/October 2009 edition. The journal doesn't put much of their content online, so for those who don't subscribe, get a subscription. They publish lots of interesting wine related content. But for the rest of us, you can read my article here.


The Blessing of the Grapes

Or crush begins and I am divinely inspired to blog.

Today was the beginning of the grape harvest at the winery. In the business we call it "crush." We use the word "party" as a verb to describe the action of celebration and in this case "crush" becomes a noun that evokes the action of harvest. In the wine making business, the party starts now.

The winery has a tradition of holding a brief ceremony to bless the harvest when the first grapes come in from the vineyards. As crush approaches, the wine making interns are sampling grapes from the vineyards on an almost daily basis so the winemaker can decide when they've reached the perfect sugar content. When the brix (a scientific term for the amount of sugar the grape contains) hits the "sweet spot" the winemaker is looking for, harvest begins for the winery.

One of the charms of this event is that you never know when it will be until just a day or two before it takes place. The winemaker decides its time; the grapes are ready. Someone calls Father Steven from the local Episcopal Diocese and an email goes out: "The Blessing of the Grapes will be held tomorrow at 9:30am."

I'm not religious, but I'm always touched by the solemn dignity of the ceremony and by the respect shown by all the winery personnel. Everyone attends, from the vineyard workers to the general manager. Father Steven always reads the benedict about the "milk and honey," waves the incense over the grapes, and uses a sheaf of freshly-cut rosemary to splash the crowd with holy water to bless us all for creating the wine. There's always a little nosh and a glass of wine to celebrate.

Once the ceremony is done, they start up the sorting line and crush officially starts. The first grapes picked this year were Merlot, in case you were wondering. Here they are in all their glory, waiting to be blessed and fulfill their destiny.