Keuka Spring Vineyards August Deimel kindly invited me to hang out with him and his winemaking team for a few days of crush. In exchange for a heck of a lot of learning, I brought some baked goods from my oven (crush is a carb intensive activity), but I was well short of covering what the tuition should have been. The processing involved Riesling and Gewürztraminer, but previously crushed fruit was in various stages of becoming wine and also had to be attended to. Crush turns out to be an exercise in seeing how many different balls you can keep in the air, and the juggling and choreography is amazing to watch.
The mechanical stars of the show are the crusher/destemer and the press. The supporting cast includes an array of pumps, compressors, fork lifts, scales, clamps, nuts and bolts, and you name it. With everything working properly, a day on the crush pad is tiring. Add to it the inevitable complications and breakdowns, and tiring easily turns into exhausting. Crush days often go into the early morning hours. Between powerful machines and bins weighing in at over a ton, worker safety is a real concern, and you can never let your guard down.
The grapes start their journey at the crusher/destemer, which separates out most of the MOG (material other than grapes). A one ton bin is hoisted up on a fork lift and gingerly rotated, allowing the grapes to fall into a bin. Grapes, leaves, and stems make contact with a pair of rollers, and the grapes are pushed through as the rest is discarded. The Riesling came from Mark Wagner’s vineyards at Lamoreaux Landing, and was fairly close to stemless thanks to his state-of-the-art mechanical picker (more about that from an earlier post). The Gewürztraminer was more typical of fruit delivered to the crush pad, and the pile of leaves and stems showed what the machine was capable of doing.
Rollers underneath the crusher/destemer.
What happens next depends. In the case of Keuka Spring Riesling, the grapes go from the crusher/destemer directly to the press and then to a tank where, after a few days of settling, the juice is inoculated with yeast and begins fermentation. More forklift artistry is required to move the bin contained de-MOGged grapes over to the press, hoist, and dump. As the grapes enter the press, free run juice immediately pours into the collection bin, and pressed juice follows over the course of an hour or two, as the grapes are exposed to higher and higher pressures of up to 5 bars (5 times normal atmospheric pressure). The press is rated at 5 tons, but will accommodate more or less depending on the physical characteristics of the grapes.
Riesling being loaded into the press.
In the case of Gewürztraminer, the grapes and skins go from the crusher/destemer to a tank for a few days of cold soak, which coaxes out additional flavor components. Cold soak means that the juice is maintained at a temperature below which fermentation can (in theory) start. Keuka Spring mixes the grapes in the tank with dry ice, and this is intended to chill as well as help break down the skins. After cold soak, the grapes go into the press, and then into a tank for fermentation.
Gewürztraminer being pumped from the crusher/destemer to a tank for cold soak.
Dry ice added to cold soak tank.
The time spent on the crush pad was (and this is probably typical) about 80 percent crush and 20 percent troubleshooting. Both the crusher/destemer and press had some intermittent issues, and the pumps struggled at times to move the solid-laden Gewürztraminer through the tubes to the cold-soak tank. August and the team attacked the problems as they arose and pressed on, knowing that shutting down the line and waiting a few days for repair is not an option. Fortunately, he had the foresight and excellent judgment to hire Meg Tipton as his assistant last year, and many of the issues were solved by handing her a wrench and standing out of the way.
Before the day’s crush begins, the winemakers are also busy with juice already in the pipeline. August tastes juice (or wine, depending on where it is in the process) from various tanks to make sure things are progressing as he expects and that nothing bad is happening (in particular, development of off notes). One tank of Gewürztraminer is progressing slowly, and between chemistry and taste August is trying to discern what is going on. At some point intervention may be needed (high temperature or an additional inoculation), but like most winemakers he would prefer letting the grapes arrive where they need to be naturally. The risk of intervention is creating a problem where none exists. In medical terms, this would be “do no harm.”
Another regular morning job where grapes are fermenting with skins (maceration) is “punch-down.” This activity is necessary because the CO2 produced by fermentation forces the skins to the top of the bin where they form a “cap.” Left exposed to air, this will create nasty flavors. Punch-down remoistens the skins and also mixes them with the juice.
Last year, August decided to improve his process by introducing a technique known as délestage. This means that instead of forcing circulation by punch-down, he and his assistants pump the juice out of the bin and pour it over the skins. Research has concluded that while more labor intensive, this approach provides better color and flavor extraction and improves flavor and mouthfeel. In the picture below, the last bit of juice is being pumped out of the bottom of a bin of DeChaunac into a nearby plastic flextank. Flipping a switch on the pump reverses the process, with the hose thoroughly dousing the skins.
Around 3:00, I need to return home to feed the dog, but work on the crush pad will continue. A whiteboard inside the cellar shows that 26% of the harvest is complete, and this will bump up at the end of the day. Our warm pattern will be continuing for a while, and there is still more ripening possible on the reds. Until then, exhilaration and exhaustion continue apace.