Fast forward to a week later, and a different cellar.
I’d never been to Haskell Vineyards before, so it was doubly fun being able to see the pressing of the freshly picked Migliarina Chenin Blanc and roam about the cellars of a winery that our wine squad has always wanted to visit.
I was under the impression that working a harvest meant slaving away under the burning sun whilst brandishing a pair of secateurs. Lesson one on day two: you can have the grapes picked and delivered to your cold container where they’ll chill overnight waiting to be pressed the next morning.
You know that crusher destemmer piece of machinery that we’ve all seen in diagrams. Now take off the elevator…disconnect the crusher from the destemmer that doesn’t rotate at this particular winery…and you’re left with just the crusher and a shit ton, erm sorry, exactly 1.5 tons of tasty 45 year old bush vine Chenin. There may have been some name dropping associated with who else sources grapes from this particular vineyard. Shall we leave it as ‘they’re premium grapes’.
So ja. It’s been a while since I’ve felt kind of useless. I’d like to think I’m a get-it-done kind of person who isn’t afraid of rolling up her sleeves and getting on with things. But not knowing how to do something had me feeling very shy and quite useless. Coupled with my absolute lack of upper body strength. There was just no way I could lift crates higher than my head and dump them into the crusher. So I was downgraded to packing away the empty crates, and feeding the wayward grapes into the crusher. Um, I quickly learned a more efficient way to pack crates!
The crushed grapes were pumped into the always impressive pneumatic press. And Haskell’s very kind assistant winemaker showed me how the press works. I got to press the buttons!
Have you ever tasted freshly pressed juice? Do yourself a favour and find a way to taste it. I wasn’t expecting the intoxicating kiwi aromas of the initial free run juice…I wasn’t expecting the pure sweetness of the grapes…and I wasn’t expecting the sweetness to overwhelm all the acidity. In fact, I worried for the acidity throughout the process. But was firmly assured by the professionals that it was there and that it was more than sufficient…samples were sent to the lab later that day to confirm that I know nothing and that the professional winemakers had things under control.
The free run juice is pumped/racked into a stainless steel tank. And then my lesson in how impressive the pneumatic press really began. So many automated schedules that the machine could be programmed to run. The ability to press at different and increasing pressures…with or without pauses….without or without breaking up/crumbling the grape cake. For this wine, the Chenin would be naturally fermented with no press fractions. So all 1.5 tons of grapes were would be pumped into steel tanks and left to settle overnight and then racked into barrels to ferment.
In the meanwhile, the barrels for the next day had to be cleaned and prepped. Finally, hard manual labour that I could, sort of, help with. From rinsing the barrels with sulphur, to steam cleaning them…the 15º C barrel room was a blessing as you quickly build up a sweat during this process. I learned how to tell the difference between a 225 litre Bordeaux barrique, and a 228 litre Burgundy barrel. I learned that the Burgundies are slightly annoying because they don’t quite fit the barrel racks. Mostly, I learned that there’s no way I could possibly lift an empty barrel onto a barrel rack.
Back up to the cellar floor to check on the press. It’s incredible how quickly the green opaque must settles into clear liquid! And then back downstairs to continue with the barrel cleaning. Upstairs to boil water hot enough to rinse the barrels, back downstairs to start on a new barrel. A few moments of romantic lighting in the barrel room courtesy of loadshedding…but pretty soon, the generators kicked and the air conditioning and lighting was restored.
A few takeaways:
- Exposing the last press fraction to some air will remove some of the phenolic bitterness.
- Balling is actually pronounced with a hard ‘A’ like bat and not like ball.
- I cannot lift very many crates filled to the near brim with grapes…let alone an empty barrel.
I have a new found respect for solo winemakers who do this mostly by themselves. With all that running up and down stairs, I racked up a measly 12 483 steps. And I didn’t even have to lift a single barrel.