No journey, no travel, no hike, no vacation. We are at Panoche picking and moving, then cleaning, destemming, crushing, stomping, fermenting, and pressing grapes in Santa Cruz. Our guardian angel, Steve, was back to help us complete this year's grape harvest.
Working together on a row, it took us 13 hours EACH to pick all the grapes. Individually we had our own method of picking...sitting, standing, crouching...to find each and every little, itty bitty grape; well, most of us, most of the time. No fingers were cut off, but there was one serious snip to a left pointer finger. We were really glad to see the last of 18 rows...233 malbec grape plants. In one of my sections, I found a beautiful bird's nest tucked in among the leaves and grapes.
The pickup was loaded. You can only see the top layer. The bigger containers are deep, and the cartons are two deep. We harvested about 600 pounds, but it seemed like much more. Indeed we had a bountiful yield due to plentiful water in the winter and accommodating winds and weather during budding and pollination.
Recently we broke down and purchased an Italian destemmer/crusher and a grape press with the realization that we were going to harvest a lot more grapes than in the past three years. Jim had to figure out how to use the destemmer/crusher. Time to read the manual.
Inadvertently while picking the grapes, we collected a lot of leaves in the containers, too. We decided to remove most of them before putting the grapes into the hand-cranked destemmer. Next time we will try not to pick leaves. Steve was quite cheerful about it.
The boys took on the job of feeding the destemmer and cranking it to remove the stems. Cranking can be challenging. Jim and Steve took turns cranking and lifting the containers of grapes to slowly feed them into the hopper. Hmm, well, it is not the be all, end all of destemming and crushing. The machine really removes a lot of the stems, but they do not always fall out where you want them to fall out. Many stems wind themselves around the paddle arm and, consequently, periodically need to be pulled off before pouring in more grapes. You have to stop, remove the cover, reach in to pull out the errant stems, and replace the cover. But I have to say, it is timelier to do this than to destem the grapes by hand.
Adjusting the crusher part of the machine to the desired result is a tiny bit problematic and imprecise. We solved that problem by giving me the job of stomping the grapes with my feet. In past years I did only one round of stomping. This year I stomped the grapes in our cooler at least eight different times. Our setup is not ideal, so each time I stomped, we had to move the destemmer and the cooler then replace them to continue destemming. It was not quite so romantic this year.
Finally, the grapes were put into two food grade blue barrels to ferment. We fill the barrels 2/3 full. After adding the 7 1/2 packets of wine yeast, the contents swell up to near the top. Twice a day we must push the "must" down into the fermenting juice.
It is an upper body workout to push the must down into the juice. We use a hoe to push it down.
This year we have doubled our harvest because all of the plants are at least four years old, and all of them produced grapes. We should bottle more than ever. One of our "malbec" plants is white. Three years ago, we had enough grapes on that plant to produce two bottles of extraordinary wine. This year we have enough for maybe one bottle.
Having a half full cooler of crushed grapes left over after filling the two blue barrels, we decided to make malbec grape juice. Our new press does an incredible job of pressing grapes. I will admit I was a bit skeptical after having rented a bladder press the last three years, but this press does its job remarkably well. And it is good practice for when we press the fermenting grapes next week. We pressed well over five gallons of juice.
Today we pressed the fermented grapes. It took us about four hours not counting clean up. The crank is actually a ratchet and not a wheel.
Since we had so many grapes to press, we had to stop to take the press apart to remove the grape skins and seeds at least five times. The remains are like a brick and about as heavy. It took both of us to carry the filled tub to the compost.
The grand total of new young wine poured into carboys with airlocks was 44 gallons. In about a month, we will rerack the wine, which means we will siphon it off the sediment that builds up at the bottom into clean carboys. If we did not do this, the sediment would rot and eventually spoil the aging wine. Come the new year, we will rerack the wine again. Finally in June we will bottle and cork the wine. We expect to have well over 200 bottles from our 2016 malbec grape harvest.