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