And just like that, the day suddenly comes where you find your wine is going dry and a decision about how and when you should siphon the juice from the bin and the choice of vessel you plan to rest it within is upon you. I thought I had all my cards in place with the extra keg and carboy to hold the overflow of my press wine, but I never knew that the big press requires much more than a ½ ton of fruit to do its job. I had to make a decision. I could either press on a day when the last of two varietals were set to press and use their pomace buildup to press against my own fruit or I could wait and use a traditional water basket press that was entirely manual.

If I went with the first option, I still had to make a choice. Even though my wine was going dry, it wasn’t quite within the range I wanted it to be and probably wouldn’t be by the time the first of those varietals – the Petite Sirah – was set to go to the press. It also still had a good number of whole berries that hadn’t been stomped or gone through carbonic maceration from the whole clusters they were on and would release sugars from the pressing that might create a spike in brix and a restart in fermentation once in the barrel. So, I wanted to wait. But that meant I might lose the chance to press using readily available pomace. If I waited a day after that, I could press against the Cabernet; however, I was worried about picking up traces of smoke taint that was potentially lingering in the skins from the recent fires in the area it came from. That, and again, I wasn’t sure where the brix would be sitting.

Another option presented to me was that pomace from one of the varietals could be left in a bin and lidded for me to use a few days later. Pomace is supposed to be fine post- pressing for a few days before it showing signs of volatile acidity.

As it turned out, I decided to wait for the brix on my fruit to get further into the dry range and to keep it free of having to be pressed with another varietal. I opted to go with the more hands-on approach and used the basket press to manually press my fruit. This press is, as one winemaker puts it, pretty “intuitive” to operate and can run off of water or air flowing through its valve to inflate the bag that will squish the fruit up against the interior of its slotted sides.

Before pressing though, the free run juice must be suctioned and siphoned out of the bin and transferred into a barrel. Ed was kind enough to select a barrel for me to use in advance and filled it with water to check for massive leaks, thereby expanding the wood fibers to absorb any leaks from the wine moving forward. So, I had a barrel readied.

future home for my aglianico

How transferring wine into a barrel works is by using a pump. To do this, you insert a perforated “bullet” wand deep into the fruit to get as much free run juice out as possible and avoid air intake. A hose is attached and clamped in place to the bullet and connected to the pump – a machine that uses reverse flow to suck out the juice and minimize oxygen intake as the juice is pulled through the hose and transferred into the barrel.

bullet inserted deep into the juice of the fruit

Setting the suctioning flow of the juice on a speed of 1-3 via the remote control of the pump is best so as not to agitate the wine (and risk impacting its structure) and to avoid overflow which leads to spillage. When we first tried to siphon the wine out, it was a bit anticlimactic as it wouldn’t suck anything at all due to water still lingering in the hose that we didn’t “walk out” beforehand from having cleaned the hose, therefore causing a blockage.

watching the wine level

Once we got the wine siphoning, it was exciting to listen to it pour into the vacuous barrel. I hovered over the bung hole with a flashlight so I could properly see the wine level build. Even though I had a lot of juice, the pump had trouble sucking it out without bringing in too much air, so we stopped with around 60% of the barrel filled. The rest would be pressed out.

I have to admit – although messy, I really had fun using the basket press. And for a first-time winemaker like myself, it helped me to understand how a press really works and how to control the pressure to get the most juice out without over-extracting.

Before we started shoveling the remainder of the juicy fruit into the press for individual loads, we made sure to have several buckets on hand to continually catch pressed juice runoff while one bucket was being dumped into a vessel. Tim helped as well by getting us a strainer to put over the bucket to catch any seeds or skins from falling into the juice.

basket press setup to catch juice

As the juice is pressed from the remaining berries, it tends to spray out in almost invisible threads; we were literally covered with it by the end of the process. At one point, juice shot even into my eye, so that felt nice. I kept joking that we had a bleeder on our hands, only we never knew which vein, er-uh, slit in the basket, the juice would spray through and spritz us with next.

Once the juice from a load of fruit being pressed slows to a trickle, you want to decrease the pressure to deflate the bag so you can scrape out the pomace.

checking to see how much juice is left in the fruit to avoid overpressing

Dave was an amazing cellar rat here. As I had a pulled muscle in my arm from recent harvest work, he was doing the shoveling of the fruit into the press and then pulling out the bulk of the pomace to carry out in buckets to dump into the compost bin. The process took nearly all day, but in the end, we had a full barrel, one keg and a single carboy full of pressed wine that I would be using for topping.

That said, given that the wine had a chance of restarting its fermentation some given that whole berries were pressed and those sugars might revive some lingering living yeast, I made sure to manually siphon out a bit of juice from the barrel to leave extra headspace for the possibility of that happening to avoid spillage. Once the wine moves into a truer dry range of around at least -1.7 brix, I will begin topping.

sleep well, little wine of mine!

From start to finish, I loved the tactile side of pressing with a basket press! Yes, it was messy, but that’s half the fun – and isn’t all winemaking an inky affair that we love to get our hands purple with anyway?