Want to find out what a wine grape harvest really is? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the close of her new perspective as she navigates a large winery experience.
I’m settling in from my transition from Donelan (Tiny Winery Land) and things are starting to feel normal, whatever that means. At the end of a rigorous day in the cellar, I am fairly destroyed. The other day I spent a couple of hours first thing taking down temperature and dissolved oxygen measurements on about twenty tanks. Then I spent a couple more hours pressure washing (“wahter-blahsting,” the Kiwis say) the crush pad, climbing endlessly in and out of the 10-ton hopper and up and down “the pit,” where the destemmer lurks like a beast in a medieval torture chamber.
Then I cleaned tanks and fixed lines.
A word on cleaning here in Big Winery Land. Once upon a time in Tiny Winery Land, I was Continue reading
Want to find out what a wine grape harvest really is? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a cellar rat. This entry highlights the beginning of a new adventure of a completely different scale than with Donelan Wines.
I don’t even know where to start.
I have made my way to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand and settled into the charming, idiosyncratic, slightly broken and mildewed bungalow next door to the winery that I share with three other cellar hands. After arriving in Auckland, a few stops to satisfy the awestruck sensation that I could see to Antarctica (I couldn’t), and a traipse over sheep-filled cliffsides I made it to my new home, at least until the grapes are all crushed and stirred.
As of yet, things are still slow at the winery. After a cool summer, harvest is behind schedule and winemakers are getting nervous. The conversation is like déjà vu from 6 months ago in California, as pick dates loomed despite low sugars and rain in the forecast. We’re holding our breath. Today we passed around a Chardonnay sample at the winery; a cloudy, split-pea green juice that, at 17 Brix, is nowhere near where anyone would like it. Raising the winemaker’s blood pressure: there’s already botrytis pressure in the vineyards and there’s more rain ahead.
The winery is committed to making the best possible product it can and is hard at work in Continue reading
Want to find out what a wine grape harvest really is? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the close of her time with Donelan Wines.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: my time in Sonoma and at Donelan has officially come to a close. The first months all blurred together, overwhelmed as I was by the brave new world of my job and new people, places, things. The harvest months were their own blur – a whirlwind of work and fruit and cuts and bruises and exhilaration and adrenaline and work and fruit and and and – I can almost trick myself back into that mode just by talking about it.
I’ve been learning from the pros – both those I work with and those I play with. Although I’ve come a long way in their hands there is still a long way to go. It takes me roughly half the time it once did to do many tasks at the winery, but I’d like to cut it all down by half again, and so on (there’s the Donelan cellar mentality for you).
I’ve had a lucky and happy run here, but my learning goes onward now, and southward. Continue reading
Want to find out what a wine grape harvest really is? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights how winemaking can be much like a game of Tetris.
Consider a cellar. Any old space will do. Large, cavernous. Big tanks in a few areas. Machinery and pumps and sumps and hoses and nuts and bolts and clamps and valves and endless bits and bobs ranging in size from – to be specific – the tiny to the enormous. A few sources for water. A handful of electrical outlets. Drains all over the place.
Now let’s go into harvest mode. There’s a crush pad – sorting table, hopper, crusher-destemmer. There are bins of fruit being forklifted around, getting dropped onto the crush pad, getting moved into tanks. Empty bins need cleaning and moving. Fruit needs sorting, monitoring, moving, sulphuring, dry-icing.
There are punch downs and pumpovers with their tools, pumps, and hoses. There is pressing with its, well, press and its digging and its barrels and its own pumps and hoses. And all the cleaning and the moving.
Nearly everything in the entire winery is currently in use and in your way. Your hands are wet. The cellar is loud.
And now take a relatively simple task: moving your pump or barrel or bin or forklift or, really, Continue reading
Want to find out what a wine grape harvest really is? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the beginning of the ubiquity of music in the process of winemaking.
It must be something about the acoustics in the cellar. All those hard surfaces – stainless steel tanks and cement floors – and cavernous spaces with ceilings high enough to store barrels six-high and tall stacks of cubic fermentation bins four-high. Or maybe it’s something about the long hours and the loud noises and the sweaty brows and bloody fingertips and the calculated distractions it takes to enjoy all of those.
No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to imagine the cellar without music. Music must be Continue reading
Think you want to work a harvest? Want to find out what that really means? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the beginning of the offseason and how far Sarah has come.
Yep, I’m still here and its beginning to feel like home. Welcome to the off-season. It is a special time of year that encompasses everything except harvest. The yellow and red fall vineyards where late the sweet birds sang are quickly morphing into the bare-ruined choirs of twiggy winter, frosted over every morning. Friends are drifting back to the corners of the world.
And the winery is so clean that it looks cluttered to so much as unwrap a hose. I’d include a photo but there’s nothing to see. But I swear: we really are still making wine.
Every week, more and more lots of wine are pulling through ML, finishing their secondary fermentation, getting sulphured, and moving to the colder aging cellar. And every week, I spend nearly a full day topping barrels. The level of the wine inside the barrels naturally and gradually goes down, leaving a headspace that exposes the wine to the dangers of oxidation and microbial growth like Brettanomyces and VA (volatile acid).
Topping – and a good, firm seal on the barrel – reduces these threats. This is a task that Continue reading
Think you want to work a harvest? Want to find out what that really means? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights hand stain-inducing task of pressing.
We have pressed the last of our ferments – two small lots of Syrah, from Atoosa’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and Richards Family Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. But there’s still a cellar to run. And now we have to turn all of this stuff into wine.
Pressing marks the end of the alcoholic fermentation and the beginning of the malolactic fermentation, which for Donelan happens in barrel. The first step is to drain the wine into barrel. This means trying not to overfill it, which – for those of you following along at home – is definitely something I have done before.
Somehow after all these months of trial and error, that kind of mistake stopped being a constant threat to me. I’m still a rookie who just tries to get through the day without ruining things – but that mythical feel for the cellar has started to creep up on me here and there.
After draining the ferment, barrels are full of “free run.” The next step is the actual Continue reading
Think you want to work a harvest? Want to find out what that really means? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the experience of her taste buds.
Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time with our ferments. It’s like working at a wine preschool. They need a lot of attention and maintenance because they’re babies. They don’t act like finished wines, and they don’t taste like them either. They taste like raw juices – a little rough around the edges and murky with grape matter.
We taste these ferments several times a day – as we pump them over and punch them down, before we leave for the day, before we start a day. Because this is how Tyler and Joe judge how they’re progressing, project where they’re going, and decide how to approach them at every stage.
So it’s surprising when we sit down to a blending trial of wine that’s almost finished – wine that will be bottled in the next few months. It tastes smooth, delicate, clear, and structured in ways that fermenting wine can’t quite yet. As we made this transition from sampling to blending trial the other day, Joe said, “Harvest is like boot camp for your taste buds.”
Which got me thinking. About how much tasting really goes on around here. Continue reading
Think you want to work a harvest? Want to find out what that really means? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights processing fruit and punching down fermenting wine.
I’ve been dreaming of grapes, tanks, and destemmers, but mostly destemmers.
The cellar seems like a different world from what it was several weeks ago. At the end of a long day, after we’ve scoured the place down for the night, you might think that nothing is even happening at the winery. As usual, you can eat off the floors, the hoses are wrapped up neatly, surfaces are clear, sanitized, and tidy. There is nothing to see.
But it’s the nose that gives us away. Nothing can mask the enormous, heady, distinctive aroma of fermenting wine. We’re still bringing in fruit by the ton most days. Processing it can take a relatively short amount of time if it’s just a few bins or, like a recent Saturday, 13 hours if it’s one of our biggest vineyards. As so often, a huge amount of time goes in to the pre- and post-cleaning of all of the equipment.
Right now, my biggest hurdle is mastering the cleaning of the crusher-destemmer, which must be completely disassembled and reassembled every time we use it, involving Continue reading