Sunday, October 06, 2002

The '02 Crush Continues

It was back at the winemaking today. But first an update on the Pinot that was picked a full month ago now: After pressing, I let the wine sit in six carboys for three or four days, allowing much of the spent yeast and assorted other muck to settle. I then racked the wine into one 100-liter barrel and a clean carboy. I left behind most of the muck, but wasn't meticulous about it, since the malolactic bacteria I had pitched into the wine near the end of the primary fermentation works more efficiently in the presence of solids. You could call this "slightly dirty" wine. Nearly two weeks later, the wine is showing remarkable progress in clarifying; the color is excellent for the variety; and the fruit is more concentrated than I expected--sweet and spicy. A bit of fermentation odor does remain--one taster called it hydrogen sulfide, but I'm not convinced of that--but it seems to be fading fast. To my surprise, we may have a winner on our hands.

Now onto today's activities. The focus was a grape at the other end of the varietal spectrum: Zinfandel. Three of us were up early this morning, bound for Mendocino and Greg Nelson's ranch about 10 minutes north of Hopland. Thank goodness for Janet from the office, and for my trusted friend and winemaking comrade, Dan Brekke. Together we were able to pick an estimated 1100 pounds of grapes in about three hours. Compared to picking Pinot, the Zin was a cakewalk. The canopy was a bit more open and the stems were longer and easier to grasp and snip, and few of the clusters wound themselves around wires and canes the way the nasty, difficult Pinot did. The grapes were in good condition--certainly no mold was evident--although there was a good deal of variability among the clusters, which is customary of Zinfandel. Greg brought his refractometer out and we did some informal sampling at various spots in the sizeable block. He found bunches at 28 brix and bunches at 21. Most seemed to be grouped in the 23-26 range, however, and the seeds were brown and nutty in all but the greenest clusters. Post-crush, my hydrometer, after initially checking in at 23.5, twice gave me readings just over 25 brix. Perfect. I was very happy with the timing of the harvest--and indeed, Greg's boys Tyler and Chris were picking in another part of the block. If you're picking on the same days as the grower's boys, you're probably picking on the right day.

Greg, by the way, couldn't have been more hospitable. When Janet and I arrived after the hour-and-forty-minute drive from Napa (Dan was coming solo from Berkeley), he invited us in for coffee. Greg's wife, Missy, then joined us and she and Janet recognized each other from several years ago, when Janet's family lived in Ukiah and Missy was working in the schools. Much reminiscing ensued. They apologized, but there was no need to; I get a kick out of old pals renewing acquantaince.


We knew we were done picking when our bins--two each of 44, 32 and 20 gallons--were full. Plus three 2.5-gallon pails. That gave us 200 gallons of grapes, although by the time we arrived in Napa, settling had left a bit of space at the top of each of the bins. Our estimate of 1100 pounds was based on 6 pounds of grapes per gallon. That should be enough juice to fill a barrel--and what a nice barrel I've got to fill! Thanks to the generosity of Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars, I've got a 1-year-old French oak barrel. Just right to give this Zin some smoothness and sweetness.

Crushing went smoothly. We crushed right into a half-ton bin, a task made easier by sawing a few pieces of wood to size and using them as planks to hold the crusher over the bin. Dan and I are becoming shockingly adept at crushing. The 1100 pounds were crushed and destemmed within an hour. I was pleased, too, with the results: A large percentage--perhaps 30 percent--of the berries were unbroken, which should aid me in my pursuit of fresh fruit and soft mouthfeel.

One last little tidbit: Just after we finished crushing, a colleague of Dan's stopped by with his family, which was visiting from Southern California. Niko and Steve's two little ones immediately began running around and playing. Particular fun was had swinging on the hammock (mom's provided the push and pull for the swinging action). Niko was quite disappointed when the gang had to shove off a half-hour or so later. And boy was he sad when his big pal Dan had to go! But we all agreed that there would have to be a visit with Dan, Kate and Tom soon.