September 8, 2007
Our first commercial harvest! This is exciting stuff, and we've been looking forward to it all summer long. The fruit was looking amazing in the vineyard, and we are so excited to get it over to Sunset Hills for processing. Basically we are engaged in what is known as a "custom crush" arrangement since we aren't officially a Virginia Farm Winery yet (lots of paperwork ahead...) but the custom crush allows us to produce our wines at another winery.
As always, harvest actually started the day before with equipment prep and lug cleaning. Got up early at 4 AM to continue getting things together before Quentin and the harvest crew arrived. Also had a few friends and family on board to help out.
The plan for the day was to get all the fruit picked and moved over to Sunset Hills to sit overnight in cool storage in preparation for Saturday's processing. Essentially the process is to start filling lugs, and get them quickly into the pickup for transportation. Thus as the crew is picking, I was making runs to Sunset Hills, and unloading the fruit into the winery. It took about 5 hours to get all the fruit picked, and another couple hours to get it delivered and the vineyard cleaned up.
We ended up borrowing some lugs from Sunset Hills, as we only had 96 which can hold about 3,000 pounds of fruit. Looks like we harvested about 2 tons of very high quality Viognier, so we are thrilled with our farming efforts and the fortunate growing conditions Mother Nature granted this season.
We awoke Saturday and got right over to the winery, as we were very eager to help out setting up the equipment to learn as much as we could. Ben Renshaw was on hand directing the operation and was extremely fun to work with, fielding our newbie questions and letting us get real dirty.
The crush process goes like this. First a few dozen lugs are loaded onto a pallet, then using a pallet jack are brought out to the crusher/destemmer. The fruit is loaded into the hopper, which feeds the grapes through the crush rollers into the rotating destemming basket. The empty stems are spit out the end while the crushed fruit and juice flows down into a plastic bin. This mush is then put into the bladder press. Even prior to activating the press, there is plenty of juice flowing through the slots into the stainless steel pan - this is referred to as "free run" juice because it has not been subject to the pressures of the pressing cycle. As the pan filled we would activate the pump to send the juice into our 630-gallon jacketed tank. Repeat, repeat, repeat... You get the idea.
So after several hours of this process it was time to clean up the sticky mess. I mean this is one filthy operation but the yellowjackets LOVE all the sugary juice lying around. Fun. We could care less, because this is what it's all about. There is just something magical about harvest and crush, and now we're starting to see what all the commotion about the wine industry is all about. This is a lot of FUN!!!
Posted by Stephen at September 8, 2007 7:35 PM