It’s hard to believe I have been working on the production team at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery for over a month already! And even harder to believe still that we have hardly processed any fruit. This year’s harvest in Paso Robles is two, if not three, weeks later than previous years. We’ve had very moderate temperatures as of late compared to hotter temperatures historically around August/September, leading to longer hang time for the grapes. Sugars aren’t yet high enough and the grapes are still maturing. Though our winemaker says this weather feels good to us and feels good to the grapes too. But I’m ready to get the party started! However, this is one of the most magical aspects of the world of winemaking. We are at the mercy of mother nature with high hopes for a bountiful, fruitful, healthy harvest. So beautiful!
The First Pick
On Thursday, August 23rd, we brought in our first pick – some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bound to be transformed into sparkling wine. This is only the second vintage Adelaida is producing sparkling wine, though a few decades back the winery did in fact produce some bubbles. As is traditional, we toasted the first pick with the whole Adelaida crew and a bottle 1984 Adelaida Blanc de Blanc. Jeremy, our winemaker, popped the bottle like a pro and said a few words as a pseudo “blessing” for a successful harvest. After anointing the grapes with a splash of bubbles, he poured some for everyone and we all toasted to harvest. I will never forget the feeling of excitement and the energy in the air when those first grapes came in. After all the cleaning and waiting, we were so pumped to get started!
The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both made their way to the sorting table, then went directly into our bladder press. We pressed them together, about 3 or 4 tons in total if memory serves. The juice then went into a stainless steel tank where it settled overnight.
The next day, I learned how to barrel down which is the term for the process of moving the juice from tank to barrels. The barrels are first steamed and sanitized. For the sparkling wine, we used neutral barrels from previous harvests. When selecting which barrels to use, it is always important to smell the barrels to make sure there is not a lot of volatile acidity left from previous use or other defaults that will be imparted to the wine.
Before pumping juice from tank to barrel, we gassed each barrel with a bit of carbon dioxide to remove any oxygen remaining in the barrel to avoid oxidation. Then we started pumping the juice and stuck a moisture meter in the barrel bunghole which measures when the wine reaches a certain level in order to avoid overfilling the barrels. While filling the barrels it was important to watch for any air bubbles coming through the hoses. As the juice levels neared the bottom of the tank, we slowly turned the elbow pipe inside of the tank so it would be below the juice level, thus avoiding pumping air into the barrels. As we got to the bottom of the tank, I could start to see the lees coming through the looking glass of the hose connected to the tank. That’s when we stopped because we did not want all of those lees, or the sediment which had congregated at the bottom of the tank, to be pumped into barrel. The barrels would develop lees of their own when all of the dead yeast cells are spent after fermentation.
Once all of the barrels had been filled, the Assistant Winemaker handed over a work order for how much Sulfur Dioxide we needed to add to each barrel. Sulfur Dioxide is used as a preservative in winemaking as it helps to protect the wine from oxidation and kills off any unwanted bacteria. This seemed a bit gnarly to me, especially since I needed to wear a mask to avoid inhaling any SO2 and my eyes were seriously burning a time or two, but sulfites occur naturally in all living things. So nothing to worry about. I added liquid SO2 to each barrel and then they were off to the warm room to hang out and allow for fermentation to occur naturally.
In addition to our first pick of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling wine, we also processed a couple of tons of Viognier and two separate small picks of Grenache from two different vineyard sites bound for rosé.
Just this Saturday we brought in the first of our Pinot Noir from Adelaida’s vines planted in 1954. These are the oldest Pinot Noir vines in California below San Francisco. The Pinot Noir accounted for the first grapes we processed for red wine this harvest and the first time we used the de-stemmer and optical sorter. The de-stemmer is a giant machine that does exactly what its name suggests, removes the grapes from the stems of the clusters. The optical sorter is a seriously cool piece of machinery which uses a computer and camera to sort the grapes. The computer is programmed to recognize the size, density, etc. of each specific varietal. The machine then uses compressed air to blow out any bad grapes or other foreign material that goes through the sorter. Extremely fast, precise, and efficient, perfect for processing tons upon tons of fruit coming through the winery. In harvest posts to come, I will share more about this incredible machine with photos and videos so you can see how it works for yourself!
In addition to the lab work I mentioned in my previous harvest internship post, I also have sampled the barrels of wine during fermentation. These samples are used to monitor Brix and temperature of the wine to ensure fermentation is progressing properly. We take a composite sample of all the barrels for each wine, pulling equal amounts with respect to the size of the barrel (ranging from kegs to 500 liter puncheons). Heading back to the warm room and seeing the wine fermenting is so cool!! The barrels are bubbling over from the Carbon Dioxide and heat released during fermentation as the yeasts are eating sugars and converting them to alcohol.
This photo shows minimal spillage from fermentation because I think this was the first day the wine began fermenting. I will capture a photo when all of the barrels are going off because I love it! For some reason, it’s strangely exciting. I guess because this is the time when grape juice starts becoming wine that we all love. 🙂 I have also enjoyed monitoring how the aromas develop in each of the wines during fermentation and am interested in learning more about the science behind how fermentation contributes to wine aromatics.
On days we were not receiving any fruit, I was lucky enough to head out to the vineyards with our Assistant Winemaker for sampling and counting. Something I likely won’t be doing much of in the weeks to come as more and more fruit starts to come in, so I am grateful for that time! Adelaida has about 180 acres of vineyards planted in total. The majority of which is Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. My favorites are the Rhônes including, Viognier, Roussanne, Counoise, and Mourvèdre. On Adelaida’s Don Juliette vineyard, all of the vines are head-trained and include Grenache, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Alicante Bouchet.
Of the almost 2 dozen varieties Adelaida has planted, Alicante Bouchet is one I am not as familiar with. This variety is one of my new favorites because it is one of the few Vitis vinifera species whose flesh is a gorgeous red. Teinturier is the term used to describe this type of grape – a new term to me! The anthocyanin pigments, which are typically found in the skin of the grape, actually accumulate in the flesh of Alicante Bouchet. So when pressed, the juice is already a brilliant ruby hue!
Things are picking up this week at the winery and I am hoping we will be receiving fruit every day this week. More to come!!