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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

My 2010 Rhone Harvest – Garagiste or Passion Gone Runaway?

2009 was my first year living immersed in the middle of Sonoma Harvest. I had taken severance from my employer in July and had planned to take 4 months of work to complete a semester of wine and wine business classes, as well as spend time as a harvest volunteer and cellar rat. After years of home brewing I also decided to jump in both feet into home wine making, or being a garagiste.

For someone on ‘sabbatical’ I was buried – Simple Hedonisms was in the middle of being birthed, was carrying an overload of classes, creating the blog from scratch learning new frontiers, diving headlong into establishing my Social Media presence; so unfortunately I didn’t capitalize and capture my harvest or home wine making experiences in blog posts.

My harvest volunteer experience was shortened on both ends by two phenomenon; I broke an outer bone in my foot and was in a boot cast early harvest, and then received an offer to return to my previous role in the technology space (VP Sales/Marketing) that couldn’t be passed up.  In between that though I was fortunate to be able to spend time with great people and  wineries like Mounts Family Winery, Hobo, and C. Donatiello; doing everything from picking,  sorting, pressing, and of course the habitual cleaning rituals. I loved it immensely.

I also made two small batches of wine; an unoaked “naked” Russian River Valley chardonnay, and a Sangiovese (Barolo clone not yet bottled) from Alpicella Vineyard; which I picked, and crushed at home.  It was a special thrill, hand cranking to de-stem, crush, and press on my improvised crushpad at home.

I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I still aspire to focus on being a grower over a winemaker in future years, but the small hand production is thrilling. This year I strongly desired to marry my love of Rhone varietals with my garagista hobby.

This presented several challenges:  (a) Rhone varietals, especially some of my favorites, are not widely grown in Sonoma County, especially available in small ¼-1/2 ton lots that a home winemaker would want; it’s too much of a hassle for the grower. (b) Rhone wines often shine best when blended (white combos of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc (the latter my fave, and near impossible to source here) and my beloved red GSM combo – Grenache (noir), Syrah, and Mourvedre. (Again the latter hard to obtain, especially in small amounts.) And I also wanted the option to bottle some as single varietals, depending how they came out.

The amount of work to process a ¼ ton, versus 1 ton, is quite similar. Indeed, fermentation, and aging vessels, like barrels (especially neutral, since not a new oak fan) for ultra small lots are hard to obtain as well. So why not just make less varietals, or more amounts of each. Would any grower of reputation even deal with a guy that wanted so many small lots? What the heck would I do with 100-150 cases of wine? (1/2 ton = barrel= 25 cases.)

I cast the Net and got lucky. Very lucky. (Although I am still looking for Mourvedre and Grenache Blanc. )

Tomorrow (which is the first varietal crush as well) I will reveal just how lucky I got, and my decisions.

Stay Tuned – 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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