Pressed Off and Barreled Down - Or, Time For a Long Winter's Nap

One week ago today, three bins of fully fermented grapes and juice rested in our garage. Covered with sheets that in another life stretched over our beds and bodies as we slept, the bins held the results of two weeks' worth of active garage-winery work -- and a year's worth of dreams, plans, hopes, and more than one stroke of great luck.

After the hands-on work of guiding our wine safely through fermentation, it was time to set it free into the next phase of its life: the press and the barrel. (Or as I imagine it, college. Our baby wine's got a lot of growing up to do before it's ready to greet the real world.)

The Big Move

With two bins of Grenache and one of Syrah equaling 1.5 tons of fruit to press and barrel, and a rented wine bladder-press which, while new and of excellent quality, was as tiny as they come, we figured it was going to be a long night. Our fellow wine-loving friend Angel had offered to come help out and learn the ropes. Just before he arrived, we started pumping free-run Grenache into our first, neutral French oak barrel.

Jody and Elijah, checking out the pump. What's that Elijah's doing, you ask? Here's a close-up:

He wanted Mousie to get in on the action. "She's testing the wine," he informed us. "She says it's good."

We had some issues with the pump, which quickly were explained by the fact that the filter screen was way too fine and getting clogged. Once we removed the screen, the wine started flowing much better. Angel arrived, and the party officially started. (It always helps to have an electrical engineer handy when dealing with finicky electric equipment. It also helps to have another set of arms for the heavy lifting. You rock, Angel - thanks!)

Angel and Jody, partners in crime - wait, this is not a crime. (It's almost criminal how good that juice tasted, though. Mousie was right.)

Once the free-run juice was in barrel, we were ready to start pressing. Here's the first bin of Grenache as the liquid's being pumped to the barrel:

Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis?

Did Jody make that, perchance? Jody.

(It's a PVC pipe in which he drilled a series of holes to let the juice run in, without skins and seeds getting into the pumping tube and clogging the pump.)

Rewind: Here's a picture of the pipe-drilling action (the only thing after crush we did in daylight... you better believe I was out there with a Dustbuster cleaning up any and all bits of plastic detritus).

Next time, we'll make the holes smaller. Those pesky little seeds managed to get into the pump anyway. I think we had to take it apart and clean it about five times during barreling. At one point ... 2 am, maybe? ... we figured out that if we covered the tube with a mesh bag it would let the juice go through, but not the other stuff. (Remember, it's our rookie season.)

Back to the barreling. We filled a whole barrel with free-run Grenache from both bins, and I got to hammer the inaugural bung (silicone barrel stopper).

Barrel #1, put to bed. Almost.

Jody grew impatient with my girly hammering and took over, manfully pounding the bung and splashing me in the eye with wine. Ouch!

Under Pressure

Once we started pressing (lightly) in our little rented press, we realized we were right -- this was going to take a long time. It worked beautifully, just slowly. We filled another barrel with the remainder of the free-run Grenache and the press juice; and then a third barrel with free-run and press Syrah.

Syrah coming out of the press, heading to the barrel.

By 3 a.m., we were finished with everything, and more than a little delirious.

This is what happens when you play with your wine.

The wine will rest in these barrels for at least a year, while it gains maturity and goes through natural malolactic fermentation.

This is the extra wine. We'll use it for topping off the barrels, which, while watertight, breathe naturally and allow some wine to evaporate through the wood (the "Angels' Share").

Takin' it to the Streets

Shrouded in fog thick enough to close down the airport, we transferred all the pomace into the back of Jody's truck to be composted, and parked the truck on the street. When the sun came up, this provided lucky weekend joggers and dog-walkers with their own personal olfactory wine experience. Kind of like the popcorn carts at Disneyland. (You're welcome.)

Smells even better than buttered popcorn!

So, What Now?

The garage is quiet. The wine is resting. The equipment's cleaned and put away. We're feeling a bit nostalgic already for the adrenaline surge of crush; the early morning punchdowns; the wonder of watching sweet beautiful fruit ferment into wine.

Now, though, with the immediate work finished, we get to look to the future. On our minds: label design; bottle size, shape, color; and what, exactly, to do with all the wine we'll have. We're also thinking about hosting a barrel-tasting party in a few months.

I'm thinking about the direction of the blog, as well. In addition to updates on what's going on in our garage winery, I'd like to keep it going as a discussion of wine; drinking it, writing about it, experiencing the culture -- wine and life. Any suggestions?

What's Past is Prologue

To every person who's taken the time to read, I'll repeat what I said in my very first post: Thanks for coming along on the journey. Let's continue it together, and see where it takes us next.

One thing's for sure: It's a worthy adventure.