Romancing the Grape

A clean harvest of quality fruit has the potential to develop into a great wine

What do winemaking and lovemaking have in common? While I’m searching for a punch line, picture this: an exacting young woman. Inexperienced but with brilliant aspirations and all the makings for greatness. She wants to give her all but conditions need to be just right. Too hot and she exhausts herself too early. Too cold and she becomes sluggish. Treat her roughly and she may become bitter. Neglect her and she will desiccate. And every woman is different and will respond differently to her environment. So will every grape respond with a life of its own to the longing winemaker’s advances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what makes winemaking exciting. It is the thrill of guiding the fruit to its ultimate expression. But there are many twists and turns along the way. Take the Cabernet Sauvignon that my winemaking partner at la escuelita, Iker Turcott, and I are working on. It was a perfect, clean harvest. The fruit looked marvelous. Temperatures after the crush were in a good range, and a day later native yeasts began to ferment with no assistance, lending complexity to our cherished little prodigy. We inoculated with a cultured yeast a day later to insure a strong and complete fermentation. Things were going along in happy, text book progression. What we cannot control however are the vagaries of weather.

Me doing a punch down on our Cabernet in an open vat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At la escuelita, fermentations take place in open vats in the traditional artisanal method. The buildings are open-air and it is not a temperature controlled environment. Yeasts – both native and cultured—live and thrive under favorable conditions, but stress the yeast with very high or low temperatures and it will not do its job properly. This is what happened to us. A heat wave had Iker and I running back and forth during the day carrying ice to the fermenting must, struggling to keep the temperatures in a healthy range for the yeast to function.

Looking for a place to warm up our wine

Despite our best intentions, the must temperature spiked several times but fermentation continued energetically and we prepared to press. Then out of the blue nighttime temperatures dropped precipitously. This seemed like a good thing till we noticed that our fermentation began to slow down until it came to a near stop.

Iker consulting with Lalo and Susanna about our slow fermentation

A “stuck” fermentation is one of the nightmares that every winemaker fears. When yeast dies too early, before the residual sugars are transformed into alcohol, you are really in a proverbial pickle. Without the Co2 that fermentation produces to protect the must it is subject to bacterial contamination. To remedy this you can press early and end up with a sweeter wine than you intended. If you have the immediate services of a lab you can analyze in detail the root of the problem and correct it with additions, such as adding tartaric acid if the pH is too low or adding nutrients that the must may be lacking in order for the yeast to perform.  Über- vigorous yeasts are marketed for the purpose of restarting stuck fermentations so a re-inoculation is a possibility if all other conditions are favorable. We do not have the services of a lab so we did what every nervous novice winemaker would do: we asked other, more experienced winemakers! The consensus is: 1) Put the vat in the sun and let the must warm up a little. The yeast is still working but very very slowly. A little warmth should revive the activity. 2) Because the must is already “dry”, that is with very little residual sugar, we should press as soon as possible. As soon as possible is Monday due to the fact that all presses are occupied by other winemakers scheduled ahead of us. ‘Tis the season.

Getting advice from the experts

Meanwhile Iker and I are whispering sweet nothings to our beautiful young wine, coddling and pampering her through this challenging stage in her development. There may be no knowing the mind of a woman (or a grape) but our intentions are noble and like good parents, good mentors, and good lovers everywhere, patience, attention and gentle guidance will see us through.

Giving our girl some love

 Photos courtesy of my daughter, Ava Perez

13 thoughts on “Romancing the Grape

  • Bravo,

    Virgin Godess of the Grape. Chemistry is a very percise energy. Especially with vino making. I’l talk to my Aunt in Oakland, CA.. She has had our family’s press, oak barrels , Etc. I’d truly love to be involved in next yrs. adventures !!! We need a basement !!! XO

    Again sista, Bravo!!!

    • Girl, I want to work with you. Next year I hope to have a cava of my own dug right into the earth. Would be cool if you could spend at least a month or two. Harvest, crush, press. Hope you’re serious, cuz I am!!!! <3

      • !00% My Family has made wine for years, so before the “Family Art is lost” let’s engage on great wine making experience. I’m a Daigo, we love Vino!! It would be very grounding after I close this chapter. XOXO!!!

        • Yer a Dego and I’m a Spic. Great combo ;))) Seriously, I’m taking you up on this. I think we’d work well together.

        • I really think it’s cool that your family has a history with winemaking, too. I hope you’ll continue the tradition and collaborate with me. I believe there’s good potential there for both of us. xo

  • Wow! You have got to be the most courageous woman I know. Even though I don’t always respond to your blog, I love reading about your adventures, especially this one. Living on the longest wine route in the world and being a wine lover myself, makes your ‘down to earth’ explanations even more interesting.

    I hope your excitement and love of life continues on this venture. Am I seeing a gold for Small Wine Maker of the Year Award?

    • It’s really fantastic to hear from you, Leonora! The longest wine route in the world …. wow! That just went on my bucket list! I really love hearing from you and miss the girlfriend interaction. Life certainly has taken its twists & turns since Peru, hmm? Sending hugs across the great ocean. I want to stay in touch, beautiful lady. xo

    • Terrific hearing from you, Doc! Mostly I sleep with the angels (the ones with crooked halos and plenty of vino in their cellars ;))) Hope to see you in our neck of the valley again soon.

  • I am a technician, so I truly appreciate the ideas and information you share in this blog. Knowing you as I do and following your Great Awakening–to a passion for wine and wine-making–brings great satisfaction to me. You are a light in my life (al
    though, never fear, on no pedestal) and I am only “a part-time saint”.

    • I guess I am a “part-time sinner” then, James 😉 The Awakening continues good and strong. Life thrills me to the bone. Yay!

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