Two weeks ago, we began the process of making our private, small-batch wine by putting our grapes through the crusher-stemmer and then introducing yeast to the crushed grapes to begin the fermentation process. We repeatedly punched down the rising cap of grape skins, stems and seeds – the “must” – to keep the skins in contact with the juice. Now the cap has stopped rising to the top of the fermenter. This tells us that the yeast have eaten all the available sugar and have stopped producing carbon dioxide, which is what has been holding up the must all this time. This is the end of the alcoholic fermentation and our indicator that it’s time to press the juice off the must. Leaving it on too long would cause the juice to have too much tannin and make the wine bitter.
Clay has a lovely little hand-operated basket press that we bought when we were making wine in our garage down in Moss Beach. Clay pours the juicy must into the basket and as it is compressed, the juice flows out through the openings in the basket. This kind of press has been in use and relatively unchanged for almost 1,000 years.
He doesn’t want to press too hard, in an effort to limit the tannins in the juice. Tannins are a bit hard to explain without a bunch of chemistry, but you know that squeaky feeling you can get on your teeth when you drink red wine? That’s tannin. Too much makes the wine undrinkable.
Once all the juice has been pressed from the must, it’s poured into a big bin to settle. Once all the extra schmoo – my own technical term for the bits of grape, seed and flotsam – has settled to the bottom, we will siphon off the juice and get it fermenting for keeps. We’ll do that in the next couple days.
After every step, there is cleanup. Ninety percent of our winemaking is janitorial. Any bacteria allowed in the process will spoil the wine and nothing can be done to save it. We use lots of water and special cleaning materials, but our favorite cleaning agent is Everclear, the world’s most alcoholic drink according to the Guinness World Records. At 190-proof, nothing survives when we spray down our equipment with it.
Next up: Malolactic Fermentation
To see the evolution of these grapes from harvest to bottling: