Diary of a Winery Assistant (Oct. 8)

Picking up where we left off last post, the cold soak is when the grape juice is slowly fermented in contact with the skins in massive steel tanks. The skins rise to the top and are known as the cap. One of the most laborious jobs at the winery is punching down the cap, which must happen 3-4 times a day. This requires stirring skins that are 3-4 feet deep until they are evenly distributed through the entire steel tank. I imagine it's going to be awesomely messy.

When the fermentation process has advanced to a point where Winemaker Joe Dobbes is satisfied, the juice and skin mixture is taken out of the cold soak to the press. The winery features two different types of wine presses: the basket press and the bladder press. When you think of a wine press, you probably think of a basket press. The grapes are put into a basket and a metal slab is screwed down until all of the juice runs free. This press design is over 1,000 years old. A newer press design, the bladder press looks like a giant propane tank. The grapes are put inside, and in the middle is a large inflatable bag. When the bag is inflated, the juices are pressed free.

Both presses have their pros and cons. The basket press presses the grapes only once, while the bladder press can press the grapes multiple times. This makes the bladder press useful if you want to extract more tannin from the grape skins. If you're working with grapes that already have a lot of tannin, you'll opt for the basket press (there are other pros and cons but I can't remember them).

I'm actually unclear about what happens next. I'm pretty sure the juice is pumped back into steel tanks, where its development is further monitored. It can be blended. Then it is transferred to oak barrels or bottled. I'll have to get back to you one that.

Something else I learned was that, because we're working with an edible thing here, every drop of grape juice needs to be kept safe. That means that an entire warehouse needs to be kept sterile at all times. This is one immense job! We were shown the cleaning supplies and a power washer and an ozone machine. Assistant Winemaker Andy McVay pointed out that many chemicals and possible wine additives look identical. Because of this, they are color coded and carefully monitored. There are scales, there are gloves, there are emergency eye washers. There are buckets, soaps, scrubbers, and goggles.

Every single thing done to a wine, from the second it arrives in the winery to the moment it's sold, is documented. It blows my mind to think that every teaspoon of sulfur added to a 22,000 gallon tank in the United States is written down somewhere. Can you imagine documenting every grain of salt you add to a plate of macaroni and cheese?

Alright, I hope we'll get to work soon. Com'on sun!

(Photos are from wineries in Puglia and include vintage presses)


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