As you know we grow 3 Rhone varietals:
We pick each varietal when the Brix (percentage sugar) reaches a certain level (and before the birds eat them all.)
This year we picked Syrah on 8/29/16 (about the same time as prior years) with Brix reading of 26. and a pH of 3.9. We crushed and de-stemmed the grapes over the following days. (We are a small winery and so it takes us a little longer to crush than a bigger winery.) The crushed grapes, including the juice and all the solids (stems, seeds and stems) is called ‘must’.
Once we had the grapes crushed we inoculate the must with a Syrah Yeast to start primary fermentation (the process of converting the sugars in the grape to alcohol) also referred to as Alcoholic Fermentation.
Every day, 3 times a day we did ‘punch down’. This is the process where we punch (with a stainless steel rod) the cap – grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp – which rises to the surface above the juice. By punching down, we re-mix the cap with the juice so we get more color from the skins into the juice, as well as make sure the must does not dry out. Big wineries do what we call a ‘pump over’ where they take the juice from below and pump it over the must.
After about 7 days, primary (alcoholic) fermentation is complete and all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. Now we must separate the juice from the must. This is called ‘pressing’. We transfer the must from the bin through our basket press where the juice is transferred to a tank or barrel and the pomace is discarded. (Pomace is the skins, pulp, seeds and stems of the grape after the juice has been pressed out of the must.)
Now, the juice is now wine! So we inoculate with a malolactic bacteria to initiate Malolactic fermentation or secondary fermentation. – the process in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.
Next came Grenache which we picked 9/22/16 when it reached a 26 brix level and a pH of 3.4. We yielded about 3.5 tons. We followed the same process as with the Syrah.
Lastly we picked the Mourvèdre on 9/29/16. Mourvèdre is always the slowest to reach peak Brix level and this year was no exception, but still a lot better than the years prior to the drought. (So the good news, here, is that the drought has helped our Mourvèdre harvest!) We picked a total of 2 tons, at a Brix of 25.5 and pH of 3.7. The Mourvèdre will soon complete primary fermentation.
This year, the main issue affecting my vineyard was the infestation of Voles – meadow/field mice. . These voles love greenery – so are not normally a problem in an older vineyard as the trunk of the vine is not very appealing. However, this year they figured out they could climb up the trunk and run along the cordon and eat the nice green shoots carrying the grapes! We had a constant fight keeping them at bay. Actually a lot of folk in Amador City had the same problem in their gardens and some reported they had lost their vegetable garden to these critters!.
Once the grapes are all picked we give the vines their ‘good night’ drink – a nice long watering to give them something until the rains come.
Stop by and say hello to the 2016 wines that are maturing and taste some prior year vintages.