Wednesday, November 16, 2011

With All Our Grapes Safely in Tank and Barrel, We Begin Our Descent Into Winter Calm at Peju Province Winery...

With the number of work orders diminishing each day, the cellar dance has changed from a swift and sprightly Viennese waltz to the more moderately-tempoed American variety. I watch the team work now and I imagine the cellar like one giant music box with the song coming to an end and all the players slowing simultaneously to a halt as the box lid closes us inside the dark, quiet of winter. We can no longer celebrate (or commiserate in) the craziness of being ‘in the middle of Harvest’, yet there is still work to do. Interns and temporary workers are starting to prepare for their migration to the other side of the equator for the next one. The high of Harvest end’s cheer and festivity gives way to the realization of what will pretty immediately follow: a cold, wet winter with less time in the day and less people in the Valley. But whoa woe, it is now the Holiday Season! Americans’ favorite time of year! A time when opportunity abounds to spend quality time with family and friends. A time of reflection and joy and thankfulness and snuggling in tight. A time of cooking up old traditions, of getting inventive with those that have gone stale, and a time when red wine never tasted so good. 

Much of what is now 2011 red wine in the Peju cellar has been drained and pressed, though a handful of ferments are still finishing up. When a ferment finishes, Peju Winemaker Sara usually lets the wine mingle with the skins in the tank for a bit before pressing off the skins and putting the wine into French and American oak barrels to age. This prolonged contact of the wine with the skins at the end of fermentation is called ‘extended maceration.’ Maceration is simply the name given to the process by which all that good stuff in the skins is extracted by the juice. This occurs naturally upon contact with one another. Phenolic compounds give color to what would otherwise be clear(ish) juice and tannins give structure/body to the wine, which also give it the potential to age. Sara does a cold maceration at the beginning of each ferment, too, to allow the pre-fermented juice to extract water-soluble components. The water-soluble components are less likely to be extracted once alcohol is produced in the juice during fermentation. It is all of these numerous steps taken to ensure that the wine maximizes complexity, concentration and integration which distinguishes ‘fine wine’ from the rest, and makes it so-o fine.

Below is the mouth of a tank that has just been drained and sent to press and then barrel. What you don’t see is that in order to empty the tank to the extent it appears here, a member of the team has to climb into the tank through this very opening to shovel out the skins, all the while attached by a harness to a fellow crew member outside the tank in the event of a Carbon Dioxide overdose, which is an actual cause of death during every harvest!!! Yet another example of just how much goes into the production of a bottle of wine.


Quality Control Lab Tech Nick presses the last truck samples for testing.

The last yeast inoculation.

A truck takes away the last of the fruit-carrying bins.

And resourceful, winemaker Sara sabers a bottle of bubbly with a draining-valve clamp to honor a Phase-One well done.


 Stay tuned because there is work left to do and words left to write for Harvest 2011!

Until next time, 
Brittany Starr for Peju Province Winery 

May you always have cheer in your cheeks and great wine in your glass!

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