In the span of 72 hours, we did three separate grape picks which yielded 8 tons of Russian River Valley grapes (6 tons of Pinot noir and 2 tons of Gewürztraminer) which kicked our harvest season into high gear. This year we had several friends of Cartograph join us which made it really fun (thanks Deb Kravitz, Eric Hwang, Sherri Hashimoto, Marcy and Roger Gordon). Once the grapes are picked, the next step is the crush and fermentation process
The grape picking process:
All three picks happened at the Floodgate Vineyard and began during the early morning hours before dawn. The reason pick starts in the middle of the night is to keep the fruit cool when it gets to the winery. By keeping the fruit cool, it slows down the breakdown of the fruit making for a cleaner crush process and slowing down the spontaneous fermentation that can happen.
While the crew finishes an earlier pick, we pull leaves in the rows we are going to pick to better expose the clusters. When the tractors pull into our rows, we jumped on the side of the trailer attached behind the tractors in order to sort through the pick bins. The picking crew collects about 20 pounds of grape clusters in smaller pick bins and then hands them to us on the tractor where we tip the 20 lbs of fruit into half ton picking bins. While the picking crew collects the grapes, we field sort which means we pick through the bins on the tractor and pull out leaves, bugs, twigs and anything else that we don’t want to be in the bin with the grapes.
The crush process after the pick:
Once the grapes are collected, the bins get weighted and then loaded onto the tractor trailer to transport the grapes to the winery where the next step of the process happens. The Pinot noir grapes get a second series of sorting on the crusher/de-stemmer whereas the Gewürztraminer goes straight to press. What does this mean?
For the crusher/de-stemmer process the bins of Pinot noir grapes are tipped onto a sorting table where we pull out any additional leaves, or raisins that we missed in the field sort. The grapes are then separated from their stems and the berries and juice tumble into a fermentation tank and the stems are diverged to another bin that will eventually end up as compost. The berries and juice are now in a chilly temperature controlled tank (set at about 50 degrees F) for the next five days to “cold soak”. Cold soaking allows the color and flavor from the skins to bleed into the juice. We’ll talk in more detail about cold soak in a later post.
The Gewürztraminer does not go through the crush/de-stem process that the Pinot undergoes. Gewürztraminer goes from the vineyard straight to press stems and all (it’s called whole cluster pressing). So it is really important to do a clean and thorough field sort.
The Pinot Noir
Beginning in the early morning hours on Sept 16, with Warren Burton, his crew, and several friends we picked the first two tons of Pinot noir from the flats at Floodgate Vineyard. These were younger Pinot vines and we picked two different Pinot clones – Pommard and 667. It took about and hour to pick the two tons of Pinot noir.
Two mornings later, we picked another 4 tons of Pinot noir but these grapes came from six different blocks at Floodgate vineyard. The clones we picked during that day were Pommard, 828, 777, and 667. This pick took much longer because we were moving around the vineyard and helping to pick for other winemakers as well.
At both picks the grapes looked wonderful, nice tight clusters with small berries. They tasted both tart and simultaneously sweet. During the crush/de-stem process we were delighted at what a clean pick it was in that there were very few raisins and leaves. The color of the berries and juice after the crush/de-stem was a beautiful deep pinkish-purple.
On Friday September 17at at 4am we found ourselves again at Floodgate Vineyard. It was a dark and foggy morning but surprisingly warm. Dawn had not made its appearance yet so in the light of the tractor, we pulled leaves hoping to better expose the clusters while racing to stay ahead of the pickers. We then jumped onto the tractor and as the pick bins came in, sorted through the grapes pulling out leaves and raisins. In about 90 minutes, 2 tons of Gewürztraminer was picked which is a surprisingly quick pick. Gewürztraminer tends to be a longer pick than Pinot noir because the clusters are tucked higher up in the vine and, consequently, there is more canopy (leaves, branches) to push through to get the cluster.
The fruit was in beautiful tight clusters and tasted delicious! Gewürztraminer is one of the few grapes that you can pop in your mouth off the vine and taste what the wine will be like. So delicious! We were really excited to get the grapes to the winery and commence the press. The Gewürztraminer went straight into the press upon arrival at the winery. The juice was gently pressed out of the grapes over the course of two and a half hours. Post press, the juice went to settle in tank for 24 hours with a big dose of dry ice to help the settling out of solids and to keep it cool and protect it from oxygen. Click here to see what happens when you add 50 pounds of dry ice to fresh juice. We’ll write another post all about the racking, lees, and inoculation of the Gewürztraminer.