When you’re working with mother nature, you want to guide without control because inevitably, you don’t really have control anyway, and so, making wine is somewhat akin to driving blind. So many factors can contribute to a wine’s direction and you just have to blindly follow along and keep it from driving over the edge of a cliff. Given the changes fruit can go through on its path to becoming wine, I now understand why a winemaker wants and needs to be near her fruit every day.
On day 3, I decided not to foot stomp and began manual punchdowns to avoid releasing too much harsh tannin. The stomps definitely brought out a lot of juice and I wonder if that triggered the fermentation that came on faster than anticipated. And I was certainly getting the color extraction I wanted; the juice was already showing dark hues that Aglianico is known to possess.
I took samples of the juice to submit to a local lab to have them analyzed for TA and malic. Because I waited just a day too long, the juice began to ferment in the samples, making the read on the malic unreliable. The TA came back at 6 g/L and the malic at .20 g/L. I had pulled two samples, the second one in a larger dose and a day later than the first, so I knew that one was already in fermentation mode and couldn’t be used, so it was just better to add it back in with the juice fermenting in the bin.
As I walked over to my bin to unscrew the top of the 500 mL bottle to redistribute the juice, I could sense the extreme pressure it was under. I was like, “Okay, this is like letting air out of a tire – gotta go very slowly.”
But, there was way more pressure than I realized. Even though I slowly opened the cap to release the pressure, I underestimated that even that last little bit was like a loaded gun. Apparently, I unscrewed that last little bit a millisecond too fast, causing the bottle to shoot backwards out of my hand, ricochet off my thigh (leaving nice welt), and fling pinkish-red juice all over creation, including me. It happened so fast that it was like a scene from a horror film. I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning the sides of bins, walls, the roll-up door and of course, myself. I must have looked insane. Well, … duly noted. When something is in fermentation mode, it has superhero strength.
As I punched down each day, pink frothiness emerged forth, telling me that the yeast cells were very happy and having a grand ol’ party. In fact, the entire fermentation process went beautifully with zero problems. The yeasts stayed active throughout the process until the sugars were consumed to the point where the wine could be declared officially dry. For each day that I took a reading, the numbers showed a consistent one-degree spike in temperature and a 5 brix drop. The temperature never got higher than 26 F.
Oh, and speaking of the #26, given the fruit’s original brix of 26 on the day of its arrival, I did decide to do one small water addition to aim for a finished wine that would clock in at around 14% alcohol. To achieve this, I ended up adding 11 liters or 3 gallons of water with about 66 g/mL of TA to offset the pH in the water. (Tim, thank you again for the countless back and forth texts I had with you on how and when to do this!)
As days of steady fermentation continued, I realized I needed to get ready for the next juncture – when to press and HOW to press. Given that I’ve only really seen Ed extract free run juice and operate the big press in the winery for his custom crush clients (I’m usually cleaning bins), this was going to be an entirely new process for me. I was excited and a little scared. Here comes that feeling of driving blind again!
One of the experiences of the entire process of making wine for me has been how helpful, flexible and curious people have been. From Cody being flexible with picking on a weekday and allowing me to come later in the morning to pick up, to Ed taking me on as a custom crush client (although I think he knew I’d be working with a small amount and would be fairly self-sufficient), to Dave Nadarski (intern and friend from last year) who encouraged me to not give up and get my Aglianico, to my own partner, Dave, who has been there for me during both my internships with Ed, and has become my “cellar rat” when I needed an extra hand for punchdowns and pressing, to Philip Cuadra (Highlawn Wine Co.) who loaned me a keg for my topping wine and advised me on basket pressing, and finally, to Tim who suffered through my many winemaking questions, took time to have a crash course with me on Wine Chem 101, and lent me a carboy for additional press wine overflow.
Let’s just say I feel very fortunate and a part of something communal. I know the wine industry is small and it is always better to support where we can, but I think until I went through this process, I didn’t quite realize the impact each hand makes. I would imagine that most winemakers feel like behind every bottle of wine they make there are the hands and hearts of many others who have helped along the way. No bottle truly exists in isolation.