Sonoma Rhone Garagiste Part 4: First Crush aka No Plan Survives Battle

(Republished, as a accident of late night writing while traveling, I accidentally over wrote Article 3)

Thanks for following! Welcome to Part Four of the Series: My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagista or Passion Gone Runaway? (Part 3, Where to Crush, Part Two: It’s All About the Vineyard.

The First Crush aka D-Day

The first of my grapes ready  was the Saralee Viognier. Taking vineyard samples, I was actually concerned the fruit was a little riper than I wanted; I seek to make wines that are lower alcohol, less extracted, expressions of the vineyard, vintage, and fruit….essentially I am making to my own personal palate, not what the average consumer buying at Safeway grabs.

The Viognier field samples tested at 24+ brix, time to crush right away, as I wanted under 14% alcohol. I made arrangements with Saralee, the winery, and was ready. I had my new wine trailer, barrel, and all details worked out.

Roll With Small Punches, and Leave More Room for Error

I re-learned a lesson I already knew well from my time in the Infantry; no plan survives battle. I got to Saralee’s Vineyard right on time at 7 a.m.  (Grapes are best picked early, and cool.) She was warm and gracious despite it the place being abuzz….the last heat spike had things in overdrive, and crews were working fast for many varietals, for some big comtracts, thus we were a bit delayed.

Not a major issue, but I had shoehorned myself into a meeting with a major brand 45 mins away for 1030 a.m meeting….Saralee did awesome and we got the fruit picked swiftly.

As we went to load the ½ ton bin onto my new trailer, we discovered the tailgate ramp was too long, the forklift couldn’t get it on the trailer….my plan was to just let the forklift mash it to bits, but Saralee was gracious enough have the bin driven over (this woman is amazing…it’s a busy day, I am mosquito client, yet she doesn’t miss a beat.) Luckily it wasn’t far away.

The fruit is delivered, (after traffic delays)  and stored in a cool place. It’s dangerously close to departure time for my meeting. I race to Safeway to get dry ice to keep the grapes cool until we press that afternoon….they have none. Luckily the one 2 miles away does…race there, get it on the grapes, cover them,  race home to shower, eat in car, and make my meeting on time.

I get back to the winery an hour late, and its smooth sailing. They are finishing up their own press. It’s the first time to whole cluster pressing on this new Puleo bladder press, so we do some setting tweaks, and off we go.

Wine making decisions:

As I wrote yesterday, there is an ever unfolding series of decisions, each impacting the next, in wine making.

Whole Cluster Press

Viognier is a fragrant, floral grape.  Excess skin contact can overpower the wine, which is not the style I seek, especially since much of this will be blended, thus the decision to whole cluster press. Whole cluster pressing minimizes the time the pressed grape juice will be in contact with the skins.

Whole cluster press was also beneficial in this case, as we had some sunburn from the upper part of the block, and only modest field sorting;  whole cluster press does the best job here, instead of grinding the raisins up.

Barrel vs Steel Fermentation (Or both!)

I like the mouthfeel and texture that fermenting in a neutral oak barrel gives (note barrel fermentation is different than barrel aging.) so 60% of the juice (pressed 70 gallons total) went into barrel, the rest into stainless. This mix gives me options as we proceed, when making blending decisions.

Future Decisions (and places for help, input)

I have some future decisions to discuss, analyze , and make.

  • Whether I barrel age most of the wine. (Must find another neutral 30 or 60 oak gallon barrel to do this, not easy. ) or leave it to age on stainless after fermentation. Ideally I’d find a 30 gallon neutral barrel used for whites and do both…but this is a very hard item to find.
  • Whether to allow the wine to go through Malo-lactic fermentation. ML converts malic acid to lactic, softening the wine. Viognier is generally lower in acidity, so many do not do ML. However I am told, if I don’t, I’ll need to do sterile filtration…for a small amount of wine like this, this adds cost, and wine loss…more investigation needed, but have a (bit) of time.
  • Once the Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne are all complete next  Spring, blending trials and experimentation will shape the combinations: how much is individual bottled? What combination or combinations of blends do I make? What percentages?

Juice Analysis

I loathe chemistry, and the inexpensive tools home wine makers use (litmus paper ugh.) The nice thing about the larger scale production this year is running tests from Vinquiry, only a few miles away are now affordable on a volume basis, as well as fast and most accurate.

The Juice Panel test shows 22.3 brix, always more accurate than a field sample; I am pleased. Acids are good, Nitrogen levels to feed the yeasts are quite high, so no yeast food is needed.

The native yeast begin doing their job, and we are underway.  Looks like the syrah and Grenache will be next, likely next week.

Coming up Soon: A More in Depth Look at Saralee’s Vineyard

Feedback Time: Enjoying the series? Interesting? Boring? What would you like more or less of?


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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