On September 8th, 2 days after our Sauvignon Blanc was harvested, we harvested our Winemaker's Bloc Merlot. This fruit was crushed into 1 ton macro bins and allowed to settle for 24 hours. We will punch down the next day and add yeast to start the fermentation which will take about 10 days to complete to dryness which is the consumption of all of the sugar. We will then press the bins to a small vessel and then rack to barrels where the wine will undergo malic acid fermentation - the conversion of the harsh malic (apple) acid to smooth lactic (milk) acid. The wines will be racked 1-2 weeks post malolactic fermentation, eventually blended with other varietals and then aged for 1.5 to 2 years depending on flavor expression to make our signature 2017 Winemaker’s Bloc.
It is time now to talk about an important machine that we use to make wine. The destemmer plays a very important role in the whole process of making wine. This is how it works: The forklift feeds the hopper which feeds the destemmer which feeds the must pump which feeds the tank/bins.
We call it a destemmer (not destemmer/crusher) as we do not use the rollers that are used to crush the fruit. The destemming action is a gentle process. The destemming drum is designed such that it avoids maceration of the berries because we want to keep the berries whole. This is done with counter sunk holes that are rounded. The speed of the paddles are set to move relatively slow to create a gentle processing of the fruit to the must pump. The paddles turn in the opposite direction of the destemming
drum and move the material other than grapes (MOG) out to the waste bin and the holes within the drum allow the berries to fall freely down to the must pump. We want to have some whole berries in an effort to produce carbonic maceration within the grape berries which promotes greater fruit aroma and flavor. Some of the berries will be crushed under the weight of the fruit in the 1/2 ton harvesting bins. And some will be crushed in the must line which can run from 50-100 feet. We hope that through this
gentle process we retain at least 20% whole berries. The berries will break as the skins weaken in the fermenter from extraction.
Check out our YouTube to view the process!
We began our 2017 harvest with our Sauvignon Blanc. We harvest most of our vineyards with our mechanical grape harvester. It is a tall machine that straddles the trellis and uses special plastic rods, called bows, to shake the grapes off the vine. Depending on varietal this shaking will remove only the grapes and some leaves, leaving behind the rachis, which is the structure that holds the berries in a cluster. The harvester has a bucket conveyer on each side of the vine that the grapes fall in, which then carries them to another tractor with bins. A harvester can either be self-propelled or towed by a tractor and ours is pulled by a tractor because our vineyards have some steep slopes. We do still hand harvest of some of our steepest rows. When it comes to picking grapes, harvesting by machine is the most efficient method of removing grapes from the vines. In our vineyards, we can do roughly an acre an hour, so between 2-4 tons of grapes. In most cases the grapes go from being on the vine, crushed and into a tank for fermentation in a limited amount of time often less than an hour. Grapes that are picked by hand take more time because the grapes sit in bins under the vines until the bins can be picked up and taken to the winery.
Another reason we find the machine harvester a success is that our winemaker, Joe, can “blend” from the vineyard by choosing which rows be wants picked on any given day.
An example of a rachis after mechanical harvesting. Even though the grapes are gone, the leaves around are still whole and undamaged.