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September 10, 2006

Cabernet Franc Harvest

I suppose it's accurate to say that our Cabernet Franc harvest began yesterday. My brother Jim and I had traveled to Chapel Hill, NC for our future brother-in-law's bachelor party. We went to the Virginia Tech / North Carolina football game, then had to leave early (and miss the REAL bachelor party...) in order for me to get home and assemble my winery equipment. The gear had arrived a few days before and I just didn't have time to build it. So I got home around 11 PM and began assembling the crusher/destemmer and fermentation tank. Took about three hours to get it all ready, including a bit of drama when I couldn't find the drain valve for the tank and thought I was going to have to drive to the Charles Town, WV 24-hour WalMart to devise a plumbing workaround. But I got lucky and found the valve had fallen down into the gaps in the pallet.

Thus after three hours of sleep I awoke to get a shower and head to the vineyard to prep the lugs. As I was pulling in I saw a familiar Suburban in front of me - my cousin Mike Smith and his two boys Ryan and Ben came out to help. I got the boys busy placing lugs in the rows, then Shannon arrived in our rental pickup (we needed to get something to transfer the lugs to our house) and began driving lugs around in the lawn tractor. Jim joined us as well, even though he didn't get much sleep either after our NC trip. Once it became light enough to start harvesting we jumped right in. I began watching the clock, as I had hired Quentin and some guys to come help, but they didn't show. Very unusual.

As we began harvesting it became pretty clear we were going to have a lot more grapes than I had fermenting vessels, pretty much the opposite of my Viognier estimates. Soon into the day, we were joined by Shannon's old boss at AOL, Geno Yoham, a wine enthusiast who had been wanting to pick some grapes since Shannon went to work for him.

The day went very smoothly, and when we were about half done I took a load over to the rental. I returned to get the rest just as Jim, Mike, Ryan and Ben were taking off, leaving Geno and I to finish up the last row and load up the truck.

With all the grapes now at the "winery" we got them unloaded and covered up to keep them out of the sun and cool. Since some of the clusters had a few mummies from my summer black rot infestation, we opted to sort the fruit by picking off the mummies before placing the clusters in the crusher. Sorting fruit DEFINITELY adds a lot of time to the process, and it took about four hours to crush and fill the 70-gallon stainless tank with must. Once it was filled about 90% (which I later learned was too much!) I added my potassium metabisulfite to 30 ppm and pectic enzyme to maximize the juice extraction during fermentation. After the big tank was full, we filled up a 6-gallon bucket for Geno to take home to make a batch of his own wine. Shannon also had to take off to get to my sister's bachelorette party leaving me to finish up the crush.

As part of my experimentation, I decided to just crush the remaining clusters without sorting the fruit, to hopefully see if there was a noticeable difference between the two methods. We'll see, but I gotta tell you it goes WAY faster not sorting the fruit and just dumping in the clusters to the crusher. I would say sorting fruit triples the crush time (obviously depending on the amount of help available.) In addition to the 70-gallon tank I filled up 6 more 6-gallong fermenters, and still had 14 lugs (over 400 lbs) of grapes left. So Shannon decided she'd make some jelly next week!

After a very long day on very little sleep, it really felt great to get the gear cleaned up and take a shower. Finally settled onto the couch about 6 PM, totally exhausted but very excited to have really had a solid harvest, and used the new equipment to get our first batch of Cabernet Franc in the tank. Just like a real winery.

Cabernet Franc Harvest

Posted by Stephen at September 10, 2006 11:03 PM