Our final month of the 2018 harvest at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery was spent processing the remaining red varieties from our vineyards, including Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Carignan, and Counoise. In addition to getting the grapes from the bins in which they arrived into tanks for fermentation, we were busy taking care of all the wine we had processed thus far. This involved twice daily pumpovers and punchdowns on the fermenting tanks, nutrition additions to the wines to support yeast during fermentation, sampling all of the wine daily for analysis, topping off barrels finishing fermentation in the warm room, and more.
Once in barrel, many of the wines this vintage had what seemed to me to be extremely long and slow fermentations. I left the cellar at the end of November and only the Pinot Noir barrels had been moved out of the warm room and into the cellar. So I believe the majority of wines, including the whites we brought in at the beginning of harvest, were not completely dry (meaning fermentation had not yet completed leaving the wine with no residual sugar) or had still not completed malolactic.
One new task that popped up in the last month of harvest was adding Bactiless to the barrels that were finished with fermentation. Bactiless is a polysaccharide formulated to help control bacteria populations in wine. It can also help to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide needed to control lactic and acetic bacteria populations.
The last month of harvest was busy and exhausting. I also had some phone troubles, so I was unable to document as much of the final month as I would have liked. So I thought I would share some general lessons I learned from completing my first harvest. Here we go!
Barrel Fermented Cabernet Sauvignon is Delicious.
Cabernet Sauvignon is Adelaida’s most planted variety and we processed A LOT of it as harvest was coming to a close. Our winemaker decided to ferment one lot in new French oak barrels. This involved having the guys remove some of the barrel rings to get the top off of the barrel in order to fill the barrels with grapes and juice. The barrels were then turned I think 6 times a day to break the cap, promote extraction, etc. The aromatics through fermentation were stellar. I also got to taste the free run and pressed juices after everything was removed from the barrels and WOW! Incredible texture, distinctive oak aromatics and flavors, and a fuller mouthfeel than any of the other wines I tasted throughout harvest. Here are some of the benefits of red wine barrel fermentation:
Winemaking is both a science and an art. Winemaking is also very hard work.
Winemaking quite literally is science. In both the vineyard and the cellar, a strong understanding of the science behind wine is needed. First, to have a successful growing season and develop the wine beginning in the vineyard. Then, to be able to understand what is happening with the wine during fermentation and throughout the wine’s time in the cellar in order to make successful adjustments to the wine as needed. Winemaking is an art because as with any other form of art, a passion for the craft is necessary. An art because a winemaker is responsible for telling the story of the place from which the wine came. Winemaking is art because an incredible bottle of wine has the power to spark conversations, open people up to new experiences, and potentially invoke an emotional response in others. After working one harvest in the cellar, I have a new appreciation for both the science and art of winemaking. But more so I have a newfound respect for everyone working in the wine industry because winemaking is hard work! Each bottle of wine deserves to be appreciated for the passion, dedication, and craftsmanship of the people who brought this wine to life.
Sexism is Real.
Wine production is an industry seemingly dominated by males. While I feel that’s definitely in the process of changing, I have to give props to all my girls working in wine production. Going into harvest, I was prepared to be surrounded by a team of all males and I was fine with it. I grew up with brothers and more guy friends than girl friends, so this wasn’t a problem for me. What I was unprepared for was the amount of machismo sexism I was going to have to deal with throughout harvest. Being constantly ogled at, talked about, hit on, and made fun of in relation to being a female was pretty appalling and disappointing to say the least. The actions of others made my work environment completely uncomfortable which was also completely unnecessary. Which leads me to my next lesson…
Speaking Up and Standing Up for Yourself is Important.
Though I definitely could have, I chose not to go to HR to report what was happening. Maybe I should have, but I honestly felt the problems of the employees in the cellar needed to be handled by the full time team at the winery. I made the assistant winemaker aware of some of the things that had happened so they could handle as they wanted. Don’t get me wrong though, I had no problem talking back to the guys, telling them when they were being inappropriate, and standing up for myself when needed. Even at the beginning of harvest, I had to talk to the cellar master so I wasn’t stuck on the sorting table all of harvest. I literally told him, “Look – I came here to learn, so I would appreciate if you could give me the opportunity to do other things than sort grapes when you can.” And because I spoke up, I was able to experience all aspects of working in the cellar and learn a lot more about winemaking.
There is an Opportunity for Better Leadership and Communication in Wine Production.
Based on my experience and from what I’ve heard from friends working in cellars throughout the wine industry, I think it’s safe to say this is true. Winemakers and cellar masters don’t necessarily get into the business always well prepared to be managing a diverse crew of people and to be able to do it well. Communication is crucial in any industry and even more crucial when working in a potentially dangerous environment. Maybe there is a potential business opportunity to provide some sort of structure or training program within wine production. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Experience is an Incredible Teacher.
In my opinion, experience is one of the best ways to learn. Getting to experience harvest firsthand imprinted the winemaking process in my mind forever. Which is perfect as I plan on having a career in wine and know this experience will be useful in many ways. Going through the experience brought new knowledge, prompted me to ask questions I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and gave me direction as I began to educate myself on the winemaking process. While there is a TON for me to learn, this experience has provided an incredible platform on where to begin. Learning the science behind winemaking will definitely require more studying for me, but experiencing this harvest has been invaluable.
Taste and Smell Everything.
If you decide to work a harvest season, I recommend that you taste and smell everything. A lot. The grapes when they come in. The juice during each day of fermentation. The wine in barrel that has completed fermentation. Take a whiff of the new oak barrels before they are filled. This goes back to experience being the best teacher. With each taste and smell comes a sensory memory you can rely on when making wine down the road. Even just smelling the new oak barrels has really improved my ability to identify oak characteristics in a glass of wine.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take The Leap.
If you’re thinking about doing something, but are holding back because you are afraid of the outcome or unknown I say go for it! You never know what can happen until you try and no matter the outcome, you will always learn something through the process. I was a bit worried when I decided to work in the cellar this harvest. The early mornings, long hours, and exhausting work everyone warned me about seemed a bit intense, but my heart was set on having this experience. I am SO happy that I took the leap and tried something new. Not only did I learn a ton about winemaking, I also learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing. The most unexpected part of this harvest was that I met someone! And by someone I mean my boyfriend Marco, who came all the way from Italy to work in the cellar at Adelaida for harvest. Though I like to think he came all the way from Italy for me. Soon I will be flying to Italy to meet his family for Christmas and then we’ll be headed to Australia to work the 2019 vintage in the Southern Hemisphere. Who knows if all of these wonderful things would be happening for me if I had never taken the leap to work in production this harvest season. I’m thankful that I did. 😉