Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 3: Where to Crush?

Third in the Series of  My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? Summary:  In Part One, I laid out my intent of making 5-7 barrels of Rhone wines (~150 cases).  In Part Two I shared my good fortune of sourcing most of my fruit from the famous Russian River Saralee Vineyards.

Yesterday I said I would write about the first crush, but as the article evolved, it was too lengthy, so it has been split it into two parts . Tomorrow I will publish the first grape crush. Today’s article is focused on where to process the grapes, and make the wine.

Crush Decision Point – Where & How

You quickly learn that winemaking involves an ongoing set of decision trees that has many sub branches, and in some cases are dependant on the equipment you have. E.g. If I wanted to whole cluster press (no destem/crush first) a white varietal to minimize skin contact for various reasons, a basket press isn’t very effective, a bladder press works much better, and gentler.

The first decision I had to make was where and how was I going to process this much fruit. (5+ 1/2 ton lots. Small by commercial standards but a lot for home winemaking.)  I have a small crusher/destemmer and press, and plenty of stainless, glass carboys, and other containers. I even have two ½ ton open top containers bought used.

Processing time is also a factor, especially for whites. Using a human powered machine to destem, crush ½ ton of wine grapes is a pretty large task, and best done by multiple sets of biceps taking turns.

There is also the very real factor of my business travel for my ‘day’ job’ this time of year I am traveling weekly; I need assistance to keep an eye on the wine, help with punchdowns etc while gone.

It should be noted, there are custom crush facilities (like Crushpad) that do 100% turn key with your ‘guidance’, but that’s not the type of winemaking I want. If I didn’t travel, had more equipment, and the proper storage until the heat abates, I’d be doing as much as home as a could, as a true garagista.

Luckily we have 100+ wineries in a small radius of where I live, and I am blessed with many good industry friends. I found a solution via a small winery nearby who could assist with equipment and storage, as well as keep an eye on things when I wasn’t around. The winery has good equipment, but takes a very traditionalist philosophy to winemaking, which appealed to me greatly.

Going Native

This did mean I had to embrace a native yeast fermentation, as this winery does not inoculate with commercial yeast strains, and you need to keep those strains off premise, as yeast are promiscuous little buggers.  I had planned at least one more year of commercial, then experimenting, but figured why not.

Does using a small winery’s equipment make me less of a garagista?

Perhaps, but this is too much money, time, volume and quality fruit to risk a bad production. I will be doing several small lots at home, including a Syrah rose (if can get some free/discounted fruit) and another batch of Sangiovese as I did last  year.

Come back tomorrow to learn about the first crush and how it went, cheers!

The Garagiste Series (click to read):

My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagiste or Passion Gone Runaway?
Part Two of My 2010 Rhone Garagiste Project: It’s All about the Vineyard (my source revealed)
Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 3: Where to Crush?
Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 4: First Crush aka No Plan Survives Battle
Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 5 – Grenache Blanc Road Trip, and a new Test of Endurance
Chapter Six: Garagiste Rhone Adventure Continues: 4 in One Day; & The Crush Facility Revealed
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