20160824_162209 Ever the student, I like knowing what x-wine gadget does to affect the eventual product that becomes wine. I remember being fascinated while in “wine school” with the anatomy and dissection of just the wine bottle alone. I loved knowing that every part had a purpose and connected to another part. The capsule, the size of the bottle, the type of cork or screw-cap, the seam running along the bottle, the type of material needed for proper label application, the depth of the punt…so many wonderful details that all worked together to support a single bottle of wine and each one had significant meaning.

Now that I’m out and away from the bar counter, working in the actual winemaking side of the winery itself, I am taught about many bigger details that have meaning, yes, but a safety side to them as well for both the person operating them and the resulting wine involved with these gadgets.

So this blog entry will really be more of a memory check-off list of important things I need to lock into my brain in order avoid losing a finger or an entire hand (not to mention an eye or a foot!)

  1. When pallet “jacking”, always release the lever before pumping. Apply short, quick pumps rather than back-breaking full body pumps. Make sure the object is centered on the jack lest it come tumbling off and squash a nearby unsuspecting person. Most things that get lifted on a pallet jack are insanely heavy, and so squishing is inevitable if tumbling occurs.
  2. Buckets have a lot of meaning in a winery. In Ed’s, white buckets are for gadgets/tools that will be in contact with wine while blue buckets are for items that will be in contact with the floor. Do not mix or you risk ruining wine and making Ed sad or mad.”Cleanskin” is a creepily-named, although less abrasive cleaning product that Ed employs to keep hoses, wands, clamps, etc disinfected. Any white bucket full of water usually has that in it too, but one should never wash one’s hands in it necessarily.
  3. Sockets the size of my fist are located under electrical boxes. To use them, you must line up the prongs of a plug to insert this ginormous plug. This is often a two-handed job. If the plug isn’t in all the way, the device cleverly won’t let you flip the switch to the “on” position, thereby avoiding electrocution or fire.
  4. Wands are for siphoning wine (such as into bottles for hand bottling or into kegs for racking). They are also for cleaning. Cleaning kegs using a $2000 wand is a bit intimidating because you must lower a heavy metal keg down gently over said $2000 cleaning wand based purely on feeling. You let each keg’s insides get hosed with insanely hot water for about 3-5min and then you turn on the cold water (before you turn off the hot). When the keg feels cool to the touch, you can turn off the water completely and gently left the keg off the wand without breaking the wand or your back.
  5. Clamps are a little tricky as they swivel around on a kind of bulbous hitch. The important thing to remember is to align the groove of the rubber piece with the metal opening and then attach the hose’s metal grove with the rubber piece so that they come together to form a perfect seal, kinda like playing with magnets.
  6. Cleaning out bins is interesting because they have so many stains on them you cannot always tell if they are dirty, so you clean them anyway, using tools from the white buckets, of course.

Racking wine off the lees. This was so fascinating to me. I always wanted to see this in action. After all the siphoning hoses and wands have soaked in large trash can-sized white bins for over 20 min with the Cleanskin solution, a pump is used to siphon the solution through the hose to sterilize it. Pumps are hooked up, making sure their nozzles don’t touch the ground, and then this octopus-looking equipment along with the clean kegs are walked slowly over to the stainless steel container where the wine that needs to be racked is living.

Ed uses a metal lid to contain the cap when something is resting and waiting to be racked off; this way it is exposed to far less oxygen. To remove this lid, it must be pulled off with chains with some force as there is suctioning that occurs.Ed had me peer down into the container so that he could point out the slightly greasy-looking film that had formed atop the cap of the wine and the white streaks around the edge of the container which indicated that some slight oxidation had occurred but wasn’t advanced and so, it was nothing to be concerned over. It’s natural.

Then Ed dipped a very long sterilized wand into the wine, just probing past the surface but not going so deep that he’d pick up lees. He had Dave hold another wand over one of the kegs and me maintain the remote control so as to watch the speed of the wine siphoning through and to stop as soon as one of them gave me the word. After the wine had been racked off, Ed showed me something that was pretty amazing – a slimy thick salmon-colored mess at the bottom of the container that looked like overworked clay. Those were the lees.

I am happy to report that I broke nothing and no one on my first day. I did however, position labels slightly higher on bottles of Rose than a client wanted (on 14 cases of wine unfortunately), sprayed some Rose on the floor on accident while filling bottles (twice, actually  – hey, that hand wand is leaky and sensitive!) and, while unscrewing a pump nozzle to replace with another nozzle, I forgot the pump was filled with pressurized nitrogen gas, and, once the nozzle in question came loose, shot off and flew halfway across the winery.

After day 1, I think that some challenges I’ll have before me is to make sure to a) always move slow and b) make sure that all tools are cleaned and then cleaned again and never touching the ground unless they’re meant to. There’s a lot to learn with each step in making wine I’m finding, but the most important thing is that it’s done hygienically, safely and slowly. I’d do no one any favors by cutting corners. Healthy wine takes time and I’m learning to embrace that.