Weeks 6-8 of my harvest internship at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery have been busy, exhausting, and so exciting! Week 6 was the first week of harvest we received and processed grapes every single day and we’ve been cooking ever since. I also thankfully clocked in my first hours of overtime – show me the money honey! I’ve been a new kind of tired at the end of each week, but so happy to experience the action firsthand and expand my wine knowledge each day. Here’s what went down!
When I thought about the winemaking process prior to working harvest, the aspects of winemaking which would first come to mind were fermentation, oak barrels vs. stainless steel tanks, blending, vineyard management, etc. What I rarely thought of was the hours upon hours of time spent processing literally tons and tons of fruit coming in from the vineyards. That is until week 6 when I spent the majority of my time on the sorting table.
First, we use the forklift to dump half-ton or quarter-ton bins of grapes into a sort of giant funnel that leads them onto the sorting table. The sorting table shakes at a speed that can be adjusted to move the grapes along. The shaking helps to remove any small debris like leaves, pebbles, etc. and catches that debris in drawers under grating on the tables. Those same drawers have a lower section to catch any juice, too. As the grapes move their way down the sorting table, we remove any leaves, stems without grapes, rocks, bugs, underripe or raisined grape clusters, mice, birds, etc.
While the sorting table is completely mind-numbing work, this is a crucial step to making high quality wines by ensuring only the best grapes move forward in the winemaking process. For the white wines and the varieties for rosé at Adelaida, the grapes go directly from the sorting table into our bladder press. For the reds, the grapes go directly from the sorting table into the de-stemmer unless the winemaker wants to leave some as whole clusters for fermentation. Then from the de-stemmer into the optical sorter which uses a computer and camera to remove any remaining riff raff so truly only the best berries are moving forward. If the stems are green and hard or the grape clusters are moving into the de-stemmer too quickly, the machine starts to shake because it’s clogged up with stems at which point we have to turn it off, open up the hood on the machine and pull out all of the stems by hand.
Besides the boredom factor, the biggest downside of working the sorting table is all of the bees!! Everyone warned me about the bees that come around during harvest, but I could have never imagined the magnitude in which the bees arrived. It’s mind-blowing how many bees swarm the sorting table, the press, anything with the sweet sugary residue from the grapes. I just had to open my mouth and let everyone know at the beginning of harvest how I have never been stung by a bee. So, of course, I am now the record holder for bee stings this harvest. I’ve been stung 4 times on the same hand and twice on my left foot!! Two of the stings were on my middle finger the same day. That poor finger swelled up to double its size. The nerves in my hand were hurting so badly I couldn’t form a fist, actually could hardly bend my finger or grab anything firmly with my right hand for two days. However, it was pretty hilarious having my middle finger swollen straight for a few days!
Week 6-8 Varieties
Throughout the course of week 6, we processed Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache Blanc, and Syrah. The Chardonnay was beautiful fruit. Our winemaker was kind enough to buy an assortment of international wines to drink with the cellar crew throughout harvest for inspiration. On the day we brought in Chardonnay, he decided to treat us to a bottle of 2006 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir. Holy shit was this wine special! First of all, Chablis is my all-time favorite style of Chardonnay. Chablis is a cool climate region in the north of Burgundy typically producing a bone-dry style of Chardonnay with high acidity, citrus and green fruit notes, and a flinty/smoky/wet stone/mineral characteristic which is a trademark of the region. This specific characteristic is due to the Kimmeridgean soils composed of limestone, clay, and fossilized oyster/seashells.
This was my first time tasting Chablis from a Grand Cru vineyard, which is the highest vineyard quality classification in Burgundy or a site deemed to produce the best of the best fruit. And yes, you can definitely detect the higher quality fruit when tasting the wine, even in a bottle of wine that is 12 years old. This 2006 Joseph Drouhin Grand Cru Chablis was heaven in a bottle. Despite its 12 years of age, the wine still tasted so incredibly fresh. Almost honeyed or sappy, yet still delicate and lovely. On the nose I found more spicy orchard fruit aromatics and some light blossom elements with just a touch of flint or wet river rocks on the palate. One of the best bottles of Chablis I have tasted yet, though I am up to the challenge of discovering a better one!
We brought in most of our Pinot Noir during week 6, finishing up all of the Pinot Noir in week 7. In one day we processed 6 tons of Pinot Noir and 2 tons of Gamay. Some blocks of the Pinot Noir looked better than others. A lot of the berries seemed quite ripe and there was a lot of juice being dumped from the picking bins in addition to the grape clusters because the berries were soft. We collected about 100 gallons of juice total from the sorting table, which the winery sells to a distillery up the road from us. The winemaker decided to ferment one of the half-ton bins of Pinot Noir as whole clusters. So after those clusters were sorted, I got to foot-tread the clusters in the bin.
Pinot Noir is a variety which tends to be less tannic with thinner skins, so utilizing whole cluster fermentation allows for extraction of phenolic compounds, including tannins, from the stems to contribute to the structure and texture of the wine. This Pinot Noir went into a large concrete tank for fermentation. I tasted the Pinot about a week and a half later during fermentation and wow! The Pinot tasted so elegant already and had a beautiful floral quality on the palate our winemaker attributed to the whole-cluster fermentation. Loved it!
The rest of Adelaida’s Zinfandel and Grenache Blanc were brought in and processed on my day off during week 6. During fermentation, one of the Zinfandel tanks had abnormally high volatile acidity, which is mostly caused by a bacteria (acetobacter) in wine that creates acetic acid – the acid which gives vinegar its characteristic flavor and aroma. Acetic acid can build up in wine when there is too much exposure to oxygen during winemaking. We sent out samples of the Zinfandel to an offsite laboratory for analysis and they found elevated levels of a lactic acid bacteria in the wine – lactobacillus kunkeei. This specific bacteria can quickly produce high amounts of acetic acid in grape juice and even cause fermentation arrest. What’s even more interesting is the same bacteria is also an essential probiotic for bees and beehive health. Seeing as how we had an insane amount of bees on and around the fruit during processing, the theory is that’s where this bacteria came from. Super interesting! You can read more about lactobacillus kunkeei here.
On one Saturday we processed 4 or 5 tons of Syrah from Adelaida’s Viking Vineyard. This vineyard is composed of steep slopes at a higher elevation than the other vineyards. The majority of the vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Syrah coming from this vineyard was absolutely beautiful fruit. I think this Syrah was picked at exactly the right moment. The berries were beautiful, not too many raisins, not overripe yet easily coming off the stems, with brown seeds that smoothly separated from the grape flesh. Because there was not much juice with the berries after going through the sorting table, de-stemmer, and optical sorter, I foot-treaded 7 bins of Syrah berries. This way there was some juice available to get fermentation started rather than fermenting with carbonic maceration, or fermentation within the berry as a whole. Carbonic maceration is typically a fermentation style utilized with varieties like Gamay where a more fruity/fruit forward style of wine is desired. Not something our winemaker was looking for with Syrah. Foot-treading is also a more gentle means of crushing the berries, as opposed to utilizing a crusher, that way you are not over-extracting tannin, etc. from the grape skins. Plus, the winemaker wanted to bleed off about 200 gallons of juice to further concentrate the wine. Once the foot-treading was complete, I put on my safety harness, climbed on top of one of our concrete tanks, and helped the cellar master who was operating the forklift fill the tank with all of the Syrah.
When it comes to Syrah, our winemaker likes to co-ferment with a bit of whole-cluster Viognier because he likes how the Viognier aids in color extraction and contributes to the aromatic profile of the Syrah. Co-fermenting Syrah and Viognier is a winemaking style of Côte-Rôtie, an appellation at the top of the Northern Rhône Valley in France. So on the first day we processed Syrah, we opened up a bottle of Côte-Rôtie! While I enjoyed the mouthfeel of this wine with its dense tannins, richness, and depth, I definitely detected some Brettanomyces on the nose with that distinctive sweaty saddle, barnyard smell. The finish was short and my mouth was left sandpaper dry. This specific bottle would have benefited from a couple more years in bottle, but it was an interesting drink none the less!
Weeks 7 and 8 were spent processing Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, and Souza for port, as well as Muscat Blanc. Additionally, we processed Grenache, Cinsault and Counnoise for rosé, Picpoul Blanc, and the rest of our Syrah from Anna’s Vineyard which was a massive undertaking! On the day we finished up the Syrah, I foot-tread 16 bins of Syrah berries and 3 bins of whole cluster Viognier. Definitely got my leg work-out in that day! We now have 3 tanks of Syrah fermenting in the cellar while that first tank of Syrah has been moved to barrels.
Punch Downs and Pump Overs
During fermentation, as the yeast is consuming sugars and converting them into alcohol, Carbon Dioxide and heat are created as byproducts of fermentation. The Carbon Dioxide pushes the grapes and grape skins to the top of the tank, creating a solid cap above the juice. As we all know, heat rises so the juice and cap at the top of the tank tends to be hotter than the bottom. This cap needs to be broken in order to evenly distribute the must throughout the juice in the tank to allow for better extraction of color, tannin, and aromatics from the skin/seeds/pulp of the grapes.
In order to accomplish this, we utilize punch downs and pump overs. Punch downs involve using a long metal tool with a flat surface on the end like this to break the cap. Much more labor intensive and not quite as gentle on the wine. Pump overs involve utilizing a pump to take juice from the bottom of the tank and pump that juice over the top of the cap. Both methods allow for the must to be re-integrated into the juice and the heat to be released allowing for a more even temperature distribution throughout the tank. Pump overs tend to be used more on grape varieties with higher tannins so that tannins are not over-extracted. Punch downs and pump overs are typically done twice a day, once in the morning and once again in the afternoon.
From Tank to Barrel
Our white wines are all fermented in barrel. For our reds, fermentation occurs in either stainless steel, concrete, or wooden tanks, though I believe our winemaker likes to ferment some of the Cabernet Sauvignon in barrels. Once the reds are nearing the end of fermentation, there is a multi-step process that takes place in order to move the wine from tank to barrels. First, the free-run juice is drained from the tanks over-night into large stainless steel portas (smaller portable tanks). Free-run juice is exactly what it sounds like – the juice that is drained from the tank naturally or freely without pressing any of the grape must to extract juice. We connect hoses from the tank to the porta which is placed in the processing room a level lower than the winery. This way gravity helps the juice to flow from tank to porta overnight.
The juice then sits in the porta for a day or more to allow the lees and sediment in the juice to settle at the bottom of the tank. Then the juice is pumped from the porta into barrels utilizing an air pump. Moving the wine from tank to barrel is called barreling down and has been one of my favorite things to do during harvest. The winemaker decides on a mixture of new and neutral oak barrels depending on his desired results. I love smelling the new oak barrels before they are filled with wine because I can detect the vanilla, spice, smokey notes the oak contributes to a finished wine. The neutral barrels are barrels which have been used for around 3 previous harvests so they will no longer contribute oak characteristics into the finished wine. When using neutral barrels, it’s important to smell the barrel for any lingering volatile acidity that would negatively impact the wine going in this vintage. The barrels are then gassed with a bit of Carbon Dioxide to push out any oxygen before pumping the wine in. The wine barrels need to be filled all the way to the top so there is no headspace for oxygen to be hanging out with the wine.
Back to the tanks! After allowing the free-run juice to be drained overnight, the next day the must left in the tanks has to be literally dug out from the tank and moved into a press. Remember, these tanks are typically filled with anywhere from around 2 to 5 tons of grapes. So this is where the fun starts! A bin is placed in front of the tank below the door while a fan is placed over the top door of the tank. The fan helps to push out any lingering Carbon Dioxide from fermentation so someone can eventually climb in the tank safely to finish the dig out. You start from the front of the tank with a rake to pull the grapes out from the tank into the bin below. This is the hardest part because the grapes are now densely packed in the bottom of the tank.
Once you have dug out enough of the grapes while standing outside of the tank and created some space inside, it’s time to climb in! Using a rake and a shovel, you painstakingly remove the rest of the grape must from the tank. What a workout! When all the grapes are out, the tank is rinsed using a hose while still inside the tank. For the concrete tanks, we also use tartaric acid to clean the tank of any remaining residue from the wine.
The grape must which has been dug out from the tank then gets moved into a basket press. The press literally looks like a giant basket with slots on the slide to allow the juice to escape and a level platform on top that gradually presses down on the must to extract any remaining juice. The pressed juice is kept in a separate container from the free run. The pressed juice will later be used by the winemaker during blending as it contains high amounts of tannins and other compounds extracted from the skins that can contribute various qualities to the texture and mouthfeel of the final wine.
Yeast Inoculation and Other Adds
Many wineries proudly claim their wines are fermented on native yeasts, meaning the wines are fermented without adding any cultured yeasts. In this case, the wines ferment naturally or spontaneously, relying on ambient yeasts that came in on the grapes from the vineyard or more likely yeasts in the air or environment of the winery. Most people like to hear that wines are fermented on native yeasts because for some reason there is a negative connotation around using cultured yeasts. While minimal intervention seems more natural, I personally don’t feel that utilizing cultured yeasts is a bad thing. Bakers choose what type of yeast to use to bake their breads, why shouldn’t winemakers be able to choose what type yeast to use to ferment their wines? Plus, if cultured yeasts are only used one time on one tank in the winery, that yeast can linger in the winery for years following. So even if a winery claims to be fermenting on native yeasts, those so-called native yeasts may not be so native if the winery has ever previously inoculated a tank.
Yeast strains are an aspect of winemaking I’m actually super interested in researching more because the type of yeast used for fermentation significantly influences the characteristics of the final wine. Certain yeasts work best with certain varietals, some can contribute more floral notes, some can have neutral influence on flavor profile to allow the varietal to shine, some work best for wines fermenting to a higher alcohol, and so on. SO INTERESTING!
Adelaida has previously relied both on native yeast fermentation and on yeast inoculations. For the majority of the reds this vintage, we have used yeast inoculations. Basically, the process involves re-hydrating the dried yeasts in water at or below 104°F along with Go-Ferm, which is a natural yeast re-hydration nutrient. The Go-Ferm first needs to be dissolved in 110°F water. Once the yeast and Go-Ferm are allowed to reconnect for a bit, juice from the tank being inoculated is slowly added to the mix in order to temper the yeast inoculation to within 10°F of the tank temperature. That way the yeast is not killed off by a cooler temperature shock when added to the tank. Page 7 of this Scott Labs Handbook describes the yeast inoculation process in further detail. This vintage, we have used RP15, 3001, and Clos for yeast inoculations.
In addition to yeast inoculations, many tanks have also received Superfood and DAP (Diammonium Phosphate or a water soluble ammonium phosphate) adds. These both act as nutrients for the yeast during fermentation to support stronger, more viable yeasts. They are each mixed separately with juice from the tank before being added. We had one tank that got really happy after receiving Superfood and DAP adds and ended up with a beautiful overflow.
We are at about 75% of the way through harvest. While exhausting and draining, the 10 and 12 hour days have been SO worth it. I’ve learned so much about the winemaking process through this experience. Now, I look forward to researching and studying the science behind it all for an even deeper understanding of enology. We mostly have Cabernet Sauvignon left to harvest, which is Adelaida’s most planted varietal! Which means I’ll be working on one more harvest recap post for the month of October. Cheers!