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Harvest Notes…2011

This week we started racking the 2011 wines we made for ourselves and for clients. Today we did 20 barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, and tomorrow we do 10 barrels of Pinot Noir. Moving wine from one vessel to another to reduce solids that gather at the bottom of barrels and tanks is called racking. While this is necessary work, and quite important in the long run, it is really boring!  So, what to do to stay awake?  For me, it’s about the year that has passed. We have noted elsewhere that 2011 was a strange and wonderful year. Rain, cold, more rain, reduced fruit production, and a freeze.  The upside was great color, amazing complexity, and flavors that we seldom see. On balance  – let’s do it again, but without the freeze, as that hurt quite a few growers and wineries.

The biggest addition to our wine making armamentarium this year was a fine basket press.  We used that rather than the pneumatic bladder press we had used for the past 5 years.  We lost the use of our bladder press, but a very kind, and wonderful client, offered us her basket press (A Serio-shown to the left) for use this year, as she needed it not. Just after we installed the press at the winery, a number of articles appeared in the wine literature extolling the benefits of a good basket press. That was quite serendipitous, and certainly added to our confidence level!  Many readers have seen either a small ratchet basket press used by many home winemakers, or a giant basket press used in the champagne industry, as well as in still wine production.  These great presses have been supplanted in many cases by large bladder presses. The pneumatic bladder press has become the favorite of many winemakers: It’s fast, usually needs only one person to prep and clean it, is automatic and does not rupture those who have to lift the basket press baskets.  Bladder presses are sort of “set it and forget it” presses.

Basket presses are more gentle, and seldom run the risk of over pressing the must, thus adding over pressed juice to the  basic free run that comes from the basket before any pressure is applied. Certainly free run comes from a bladder press too, but there is a tendency to later operate these pneumatic presses at higher pressure to obtain a greater yield. This can give rise to bitter tannins, and other phenols that can also be bitter.  Basket  presses are also slow, and not favored in a high production facility.

Are the basket presses easier to operate – not really? What is the reason we love it?  Simple. We feel that it can make better wines.  That statement is sure to result in grief for us, as many winemakers use bladder presses, and make fine wines. We have done that also. However one anecdotal comment – below – may be the best place to end this note.

A wine loving colleague was at the winery the other day. In tank we had our 2011 Syrah that was pressed 24 hours earlier. Her comment upon tasting said wine:  “This is better now than most wines I purchase that have aged, been bottled and sold in restaurants!”  My thought: Same vineyard, same fruit, same yeasts, same treatment,  different press! Enough said.

Now if we could only keep it!


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