Diary of a Winery Assistant (Oct. 6)

In this post, I'll explain the general process of wine making as I learned it during orientation at Dobbes Family Estate Winery. This post might be for wine geeks only, but I hope to make it a bit entertaining.

Here's a link---in lieu of my own photos---to a slideshow of the 2006 harvest at the winery.

After the grapes come into the winery (and the bees fly away), they need to be cleaned. Two short conveyor belts and one automatic de-stemmer are involved. We pick out stems and leaves as quickly as possible in order to process as many grapes as possible. We are attempting to process 2,000 tons of grapes in 4 weeks with a crew of around 30. The de-stemmer is an amazing machine with four turbines, each with a hundred or more little rubber fingers that are so gentle that they pop the grapes off the stems without breaking the skins.

Next, depending on the grape variety, the grapes are either put directly into a cold soak, or crushed then put into a cold soak. Pinot Noir is an example of a grape with a very thin skin, and because of this it will break on its own. Grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah however, need to have their skins broken in order to release juice. Sangiovese is an example of a grape that can either be broken or left alone, depending on the winemaker's style, and the characteristics of the particular fruit.

Getting to be a winery assistant at Dobbes Family Estate Winery is an incredibly unique experience because it will allow me to work with a huge number of grape varieties, including Tempernillo, Grenache, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and many more. Neither Wine By Joe or Dobbes Family Estate create wines with all of these grapes: The winery processes fruit for other wine companies.

The cold soak takes place in steel tanks of various sizes. These tanks usually feature dimpled metal siding, which helps to control the temperature. Thermometers, which look like 3 foot wands, are kept in the very middle of the tanks so that accurate temperature readings can be taken. Because the juice and the grape skins---known as the cap---separate, the thermometer must be positioned at the very bottom of the cap, which can sometimes be a few feet deep. Anyone up for sinking up to their necks in wine?

Depending on the grape variety, the cold soak lasts for a longer or shorter time, during which the main goal is the extract as much from the skin as possible. Skins impart color, tannins, and acidity in a wine. The process is temperature controlled so that fermentation does not happen too quickly, resulting in these elements of flavor and aroma getting lost. This technology is relatively new to the world, maybe 70 years old. It is possible to leave the skins and juice in contact even after fermentation is complete. However, that is a matter of style. I'm not sure what the pros and cons of either approach are. Anyone want to enlighten me?

To be continued...


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