Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Makin' Wine in Virginia...

So you may have noticed my posting frequency dropped off a cliff. After a fun summer of vacations, I was ready to get back into the thick of it when an opportunity came along that I just couldn't pass up: starting in the end of August, I have been working as a part-time winery assistant for Three Fox Vineyards! Luckily I have been able to work some flexibility into my "day job" so that I can work at Three Fox on Wednesdays and Fridays (and my wife and I both continue to work periodic weekends)!

This has been an amazing learning experience for me so far - I started just as harvest season rolled around, and there certainly has been plenty to do! So I think I am going to start posting about the ins-and-outs of working at a small, family-owned winery during harvest for the next couple of months. I think this should provide whatever readers have stuck with me through my summer hiatus with an interesting and educational look at winemaking in Virginia.

Out with the Old, In with the New
One of the first things we had to do in preparation for the coming harvest was bottle up the remaining 2006 wine! We'll be needing those tanks and barrels that the wine is sitting in for this year's fruit, so time to bottle everything up. It doesn't make sense for a small (~3,000 cases per year) winery to own their own bottling equipment, and so what most folks do is rent out a "bottling truck". If you saw this thing driving down the highway, there's no way you would think it contained a mobile bottling lab!

It's a bit of a tight squeeze on the inside, with a bottle washer, wine dispenser, corking machine, foil - adder - and - heat - it - to - shrink - it machine, labeler, and conveyor belts everywhere (no, I have no idea of what everything is called, but it's fascinating to watch!). And let me tell you, this thing really MOVES - we were pumping out a case of wine approximately every 10 seconds! "Frantic" only begins to describe the sense of urgency you feel as more than one bottle a second is hurtling down the line at you, to be yanked from the belt and shoved into boxes by hand - there is literally no time for mistakes. Luckily, bottling is an entertaining enough event that we had a good crop of volunteers there, so someone could step in and swap out positions once the repetition of whatever it was you were doing started getting to you.

I don't have the exact numbers right now, but we ended up bottling several hundred cases of wine in the matter of a few hours. Not bad for a days work! And now all of our stainless steel tanks are empty and ready for cleaning in preparation for fermentation.

So this final bottling run actually occurred in late August. Not to ruin the surprise, but we have already harvested our Viognier and Pinot Grigio and pressed them along with a load of Vidal from one of our growers and started their fermentations, and we've also received a load of Chambourcin grapes from one of our growers which we crushed and started fermentation. None of the other reds are ready for harvest yet, so I have a bit of a breather in which to catch up to the present with my posts. My next post will discuss how we determined when the Viognier and Pinot Grigio were ready to harvest, what goes on during harvest, and what wine chemistry we performed on the newly pressed juice prior to fermentation. So stick around - it should be an interesting next couple of months!

1 comment:

winedeb said...

Hi Nate - glad you are back at it! I am so jealous of your part time job. What an experience! I look forward to hearing all about working in a winery!