Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blasting - Memoir of a Cellar Rat

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After the Pinot Noir grapes are destemmed, the resulting mixture of grape skins, seeds, and juice, is pumped into massive stainless steel tanks. This is when the maceration process takes place; the process where the flavors and aromas of wine are created. The longer the juice remains in contact with the skins, the more powerful it becomes. To really get those powerful fruit flavors, you don't just let the skins sit around. No, you have to blast.

Ever seen pictures of grape stomping? This is the ancient method of extracting flavors from grape skins. The skins are pushed around, putting them in contact with more and more of the juice. Two of the most popular methods for making wine flavorful are punch downs and pump overs. Punch downs are just what they sound like: You punch through the cap of grape skins using a large stick. It's like dipping a tea bag to extract more flavor (to the right: photo shows the process being completed on 1 ton bins). With pump overs, you pump juice from the bottom of the tank over the top. (Below: 1st photo shows a pump over in the foreground; my buddy Paul watching a tank in the background; 2nd photo shows Paul, 15 feet in the air, watching a tank mix.





At Wine By Joe, we used cutting edge technology to get the most flavor from the grapes. Blasting (technically called the pneumatage process), uses blasts of air to move the grape skins around. I connected four air hoses to the bottoms of the steel tanks, then sent evenly time bursts through thousands of gallons of wine. This made for some incredible sights.



First, the CO2 that was trapped under the skins is released; the smoke-like gas spews out of the top of the tank, making it look like a volcano, as the slideshow above shows.



Sometimes the air blast is too powerful; this makes angry oceans of wine: juice actually shoots out of the top of the tanks. To make sure that this doesn't happen, you need to use a scissor lift to get to the top of the tanks, some of which stand 20-25 feet high. Fireworks = grapes in the slideshow above.


Sugar is also converted to alcohol during this process. Say the Brix reading begins at 25 degrees: You'll want to wait until it drops to negative degrees before draining the tanks and pressing the grape skins. The maceration process differs depending on the grape variety and the winemaker's vision. Usually between 10 and 30 days. At Wine By Joe, the process usually took 10-15 days.

In the next post I'll talk about one of the most fun parts of being a winery assistant: Digging out tanks.

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