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Just Another Day at the Office

by David on September 28, 2006

Prelude: No matter how carefully you plan, sometimes things just get messed up (there’s life in a nutshell for you).  And, sometimes having to fall back and punt turns out to be serendipitous anyway…

11:00 AM: So, I go down to snap some photos for our Harvest Calendar and things have come to a standstill. Geoff, our Winemaker, and Erin, worthy new assistant, are pulling stems and grapes out of the crusher-stemmer because the thing has stopped working. Oh, my…  The good news is that 5 out of 7 tons are already crushed. The bad news is the 4 boxes of uncrushed grapes sitting there waiting their turn. Geoff tries to fix it. Erin tries to fix it. Rosario, who’s worked here forever and knows this place inside and out, tries to fix it. All to no avail.

Geoff is being remarkably calm, cool, and philosophical about it. This is probably because he’s seen it all before, it’s a very cool day and this is Cabernet Sauvignon, which we’re going to ferment warm anyway. You don’t want to think about his mood if this was a hot day and white grapes (shriveled Chardonnay isn’t what we have in mind).  Of course every repairman in the valley who knows how to deal with a crusher-stemmer is busy. Like the grapes, we have to wait our turn. A neighbor tries to fix it. Nope.

Geoff remembers that another neighbor has a small crusher-stemmer. If they’re not using it, maybe we can borrow it. Voila! This is one of the things I love about this industry and this valley – people are unstintingly generous and neighborly!

I think this crusher is smaller than Geoff remembered. I thought ours is small, but now there’s a truly tiny, very cute, red, Italian model sitting on our crushpad. And it works! But it works slowly. Very slowly. We’re not talking about tons per hour; we’re talking pounds per hour.

As the crushing goes on, Geoff becomes concerned that the 2 tons will overwhelm it and we won’t be the only ones with a broken crusher. OK, that’s it. We’re going to have to wait until ours is fixed. Maybe by this evening. So, on day 18 of crush, with no time off for good behavior, Geoff is looking at crushing by moonlight.

Consensus is that it’s an electrical problem. Maybe an electrician can get here sooner. Worth a shot.

Sometimes people wonder about the difference between making wine at a small winery vs. a large one, and this is one of the times that it becomes glaringly obvious. At a large winery, you may well have more than one crusher-stemmer and, if not, you call the maintenance department, stat.  At a large winery, when it’s time to drain the wine and shovel the pomace (skins and seeds) out of the tank so it can be pressed, a work order is sent from the winemaking staff to the cellar crew. At a small winery, you flip a coin with your brethren (if they exist) for the privilege of crawling in there and getting the job done. There are lots of ways to get to a similar end.

Geoff clearly loves being a hands-on winemaker and being in touch (literally) with the wines every step of the way, even if it means getting those hands dirty, shoveling pomace. But, he probably wouldn’t object to having a maintenance department at the moment.

8:00 PM: As the moon rises, the crusher’s repaired and ready to go!

Coda: That was some of the sweetest smelling Cabernet ever coming out of the crusher and into the fermentation tank. We figure it kinda liked all that fretting and special attention, not to mention keeping the boss up late. Look for a very expressive Estate Cabernet Sauvignon indeed from Goosecross in 2006 ;-)

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