We’re so excited about the opportunity to make wine out of the beautiful Pinot Noir grapes from Ted Klopp’s Thorn Ridge Ranch vineyard (renown wineries such as Kosta Browne Winery, Freeman Winery and Inman Family Wines make wine out of these same grapes!) that I’ve decided to write a grape-to-glass diary from the perspective of a winemaker’s wife. Clay earned his certificate in winemaking from the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis and UC Davis extension. And through the years of helping him make wine, I’ve learned through doing. We share the wine with friends and family and, at least for now, do not sell what we make. Following the harvest of the grapes and running them through the crusher/stemmer, we began the fermentation process in bins in our little winery.
The crushed grapes in their unfermented stage – which includes the skins, seeds and small stems – is called the “must”. When we put the must in the bins, we let it sit for a couple days to maximize the color and flavor, called a “cold soak”.
After the cold soak, Clay adds yeast to start the fermentation process. These yeast process the sugar in the must and turn it into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. For us commoners, I say, “They eat the sugar and poop out alcohol.” Not very glamorous but certainly easy to remember.
The yeast multiply by dividing into two, four, eight – just like a fertilized egg. They require nitrogen, which exists naturally in the grape plant. As they grow, though, they use up the existing nitrogen. If they don’t get fed more, they may create hydrogen sulfide, giving the must a rotten egg smell. Clay will feed the yeast a nutrient that contains nitrogen until their work is done.
The carbon dioxide that the yeast produce causes the skins, seeds and stems to rise to the top of the barrel, creating a thick cap. We do a "punch down" three times a day, using a flat disc on a long pole to push the cap back into the juice. This keeps the skins in contact with the juice, adding flavor and color. It also keeps the skins from drying out and developing mold or bacteria that could ruin the wine. Remember the great “I Love Lucy” grape-stomping scene? This is exactly what they’re doing. The only danger is crushing the seeds, which could introduce a bitter taste that certainly would not be very appealing in the lovely Pinot Noir we hope to end up with.