Friday, September 19, 2008

Dreaming In the Lab

This wine cellar is overflowing with macho men. Not for the faint of heart, this is a world full of the coarse and grimy. When I leave at the end of the day, my hands are stained purple and I'm covered in a sticky mess. Being one of two women currently working in a group nearing thirty is not all it's cracked up to be. When passing by the laboratory, where all are female, I gaze longingly. Soothing music plays overhead with intelligent conversation, and I think, 'What am I doing out here?'. So to bring a bit of balance to my life, when I finished in the cellar today I went to the lab, where they were looking particularly overwhelmed. Fruit samples piled high on every surface, they wasted no time showing me some basic procedures to lighten the load. Testing for brix (sugar levels) and running pH analysis with the machine pictured above were my first lessons, and I was thrilled to finally see all their cool gadgets. Seriously, the lab has the best gadgets. A few hours later I felt human again, reassured that I could battle my way through another day of machismo. Oh, and one of the perks to not being cooped in the lab is a better view.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Venture a Venturi

Another technique to expose fermenting wine to oxygen is with the above process and device. A Venturi tube, in a wine cellar, serves the purpose of suctioning air into a line to expose the traveling wine to oxygen. After draining a tank of its juice, this Venturi tube is connected to a hose at the bottom. The juice is then fed back to the top where a sprinkler distributes it over the fruit. A very interesting relationship wine has with oxygen. Dependent on it for its young life, but in bottle or barrel it needs very little. Then at the time of consumption, it relies on the exchange again.

Enough about technique. This is hard work! My biceps are growing by the minute, and I'm constantly amazed at how much there is to do in what's considered a medium-sized facility. Even on a slow day we can put in nine hours, and the evening crew still needs to repeat every action from the day.
I'm ready to do some tasting.

Wine Play

Pinot noir is finicky, and while waiting for fermentation it likes lots of air. Lucky for this pinot, I was there with a fire hose to give it what it wants. The juice is drained from the bottom of the tank and pumped up through a hose over the cap.
The art of a pump-over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mis Botas

My boots. Don't be jealous.

Fermentation fog

The tanks are fast filling with fruit, and at $4,000-6,000 per ton, a large tank can easily hold $100,000. Now at various stages of fermentation, the cellar has a strong odor, and the CO2 from opening the lid of a tank hits your lungs with a burning sensation. Careful not to inhale, one could lose consciousness and become wine soup. The barrels were just fitted with new stave inserts to add oak tones without the expense of buying new barrels. They're waiting to be filled with the newly arriving chardonnay. The tourists standing on the rooftop deck are charmed; cellar workers are sleepy and nervous.