My First Vintage
Over the past couple of years I embarked on a journey to complete the UC Davis Extension Winemaking Certificate program, and I finally decided to really learn how to make wine. This making part was a funny predicament, a good friend said 'get this stuff out of my garage' i.e. all of his old winemaking equipment, fermenters, carboys, wine press. I hadn't planned on making wine this year as it was late in the season, and I hadn't lined up any grapes. Added to that, I live in a VERY small San Francisco apartment... Next thing I know, I'm on Craigslist and there were grapes for sale this weekend! Ah, why not. If something goes wrong, I can always dump it down the drain and nobody will know. I really didn't want to start playing with frozen grapes, I wanted to experience and learn as much as I could, and it happened really quickly. Saturday 4AM out of the house alone with a couple 32 Gallon fermenters, 2- 6 Gallon buckets and some clippers. Oh, and all of this in a Mini Cooper.
September 11th, I met up with a group of people in the parking lot of a gas station in Brentwood, CA, Michael directed us to the vineyard and pointed out the blocks we were going to pick that day. This property was beautiful, and the grapes looked great. It was the old Tamayo Estate property, and I guess they didn't have a buyer for the fruit this year, so we had access to anything we wanted. A little more background, I've been spending a lot of time on the couch this year with severe back pain and sciatica, this was going to be a challenge for me to do solo. But, despite all of this, I still have the head of an athlete pushing through that last set of intervals, just get it done! I was only looking for a small amount of fruit anyway. 6 bucket loads later, load them into the Mini, unload to weight them, 170 lbs, run them through the crusher destemmer, and back into the car with the AC blasting to keep them as cool as possible on the drive back to SF. The thing about the direction I chose to go with wine was, to learn first, from some of the best in the business from one of the best programs in the world, while working as much as possible as a full time photographer. That all adds up to I have no idea what I'm doing!
Dry Ice was my friend while I tried to figure out a plan. It's crucial to get and keep the juice cold at this point to protect from microbial spoilage and also from oxidation. This is called a cold soak, and it really helps with color and phenolic extraction. A three day cold soak, a little acid adjustment, and now I have a plan. This is my first go around, so I went with a traditional route and and pitched with commercial yeast.
Once the yeast starts doing it's job, we move from juice to wine rather quickly. What an incredible smell, remember the small SF apartment I mentioned earlier. Even the building lobby had a slight sweet intoxicating smell of fermentation. I could get used to this! So much so, that I got another email from Michael, there was a block of Malbec that was ready the very next Saturday! No surprise with my personality, if you're going to do something do it big and do it well. September 18th 5AM wake up this time, I've got this harvest stuff figured out, plus I had some harvest help today in return for In-and-Out Burger lunch.
8 buckets later and 260 pounds of beautiful Malbec, here we go again, just bigger, more dry ice, and more of that wonderful fermenting grape smell.