Innovation, thy name is Garagiste

about 5/8 of a ton of Cabernet Franc sits quietly, awaiting its destinyGrapes in tow, Hal and I got back into town about 5pm or so to find crush transformed. Because while we’d been sitting on our butts chewing bon bons up and down I-84, the Garagistes had been busy.

One of the pitfalls of winemaking is that you only get to practice it once a year. In our case, that means it’s always somewhere around mid-crush when you remember the thing you swore during the last harvest you were going to do the following year. And there you are, up to your elbows in sticky grapes, without that gizmo or process or infrastructure in place, having to wing it again.

But not this year. Oh no. Ride shotgun with me as I back the truck up the driveway and past the fold, smack dab into a new frontier of winemaking technology the likes of which the world (well, our Garagiste world, anyway) has never seen before.

The first grapes roll down our patented chute (patent pending)The first breakthrough I ran into was one of James’, who had brought to life an idea we’d always promised we’d implement, but never got around to: crush through the basement window. Rather than process the grapes on the cement pad then heft sloshy vessels of grape goo over uneven ground and down precarious stairs into the basement, James had cut to the chase – or rather, the chute. He rigged the crusher just outside a basement window, then fashioned a catching tray and chute out of metal ducting. Turn the crank and gravity does the rest.

Simply a godsend. Of course, all agreed we need to construct a more polished (and less sharp at the edges) chute, but this proof of concept was positively inspired.

Not to be outdone, Mike and George had been working on a ramp for those very precarious stairs, so that, when we did have to go the long way around, we’d have two smooth tracks down into the basement instead of five precipitous stairs.

George also had the forethought to borrow a second crusher, which allowed us to split our resources and process both the Merlot and the Franc at the same time. One crew worked the Merlot (and the new chute), while the other fed Franc into the maw and hoofed it downstairs the old fashioned way (but with the vastly way-smoothing ramp).

The feast draws nearWe were about 2/3 of the way through the Franc and maybe a 1/3 into the Merlot when we came to our senses and realized we had not been drinking nearly enough wine, and what wine we had been drinking wasn’t being sopped up with nearly enough food. Dinner was served. Mike had babied a soul-warming cassoulet through the afternoon, and Whit had slow-cooked a brisket to perfection, coating it with a homemade sauce that must live just down the road from that brisket in heaven.

And of course, we had to wash it all down with something…

Brisket and sauce

Feast

Yes, my friends, to say harvest is a mighty fine time of year does it no justice at all.

It was somewhere into the fourth bottle when one sharp wit remembered we still had about half a ton of grapes to process. So back to the machines we went, two spare crews armed only with espresso and a driving vision of untold cases of wine just a year and a half away. Yes, we’re that old.

Bird’s eye view of the merlot crush

In the end, we turned about 1330 lbs of Merlot into 125 gallons of must, and 1200 lbs of Cabernet Franc into about 110 (that’s raw goo, by the way, not finished wine of which there will be much less). We decided to put the Merlot into the stainless steel tank, which it nearly topped, since our plan is to seignée it (that is, bleed some juice from the tank) and thus bring it down from the rim. But we may regret that decision, especially if we decide not to bleed.

The Merlot tasted good, if a little overripe (“like candy and weeds,” quipped George), but that’s kind of par for the merlot course in this vineyard (and why we’re trying the seignée – more on that in a later post). But the Franc, as always, tasted crisp, fresh and alive, if maybe two or three milliseconds shy of complete physiological ripeness.

James takes it to the merlot

But the numbers are a concern for another day. A little before midnight, the rag tag remnants of the crew hoisted one last toast to the first crush of 2007 and disappeared into the night.

Any other highlights I missed?

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. patrick October 4th, 2007 3:24 pm

    i love the overhead view.