Friday, March 30, 2007

From Dusk 'till Dawn

Pinot arriving

It’s couple of weeks into the harvest and after a day of rain, we have the night off of work because the grapes are too wet to process. With rain, the vines soak in the water and dilute the sugar inside the grapes, so they need a day or so of sun to re-concentrate. Today was sunny, and we’re not expecting to receive any grapes for about 30 hours – which is tomorrow at midnight. And since I work on the receiving team, well, there’s not a lot to do without fruit.


But the last two weeks have been busy and work is going well. On busy nights, we receive around 500 tons of grapes. All told, 90% of what we process is sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, but we will also process some pinot noir and merlot. Most of that is actually trucked down from the vineyard on the North Island and ferried across Cook Strait.

cleaning the destemmer

The local grapes are harvested according to ripeness and arrive almost without warning. We have a tentative time as to when they’ll arrive on site. Fortunately, in receiving we don’t worry about from where the trucks come – we just run the white grapes from the receiving bin through the destemmer and crusher and into a press (reds go through the destemmer and bypass the presses on their way to open-top fermentation tanks). Grape juice goes into tanks in the winery to begin fermentation, and conveyors takes the empty skins back outside to trucks waiting to take them away. The entire process, from the grapes arriving in the receiving bin to empty skins leaving the building takes between 3 and 4.5 hours. We have 10 presses, each capable of processing 32 tons at a time, and when we’re really busy they’re all running and trucks are waiting outside for the next available spot.

Out of the crusher

Some nights I run the destemmer/crusher, which is the more exciting of my two positions. I work with the trucks to back them in and unleash their grapes. Twenty tons at a time hitting the receiving bin shakes the entire set up, sending a wave toward the back of the bin and grapes flying in all directions. We add sulfur and enzymes on the way to the presses, and that’s where my other job begins. When I’m not running the destemmer/crusher, I work on the floor with the presses. They’re almost fully automated, so I basically watch the juice bins, make more additions, and initiate changes in press cycles. When the pressing is complete, new grapes replace old ones within minutes, and it all starts again.

The end of the day is near

We do this all night, and in the rare slow moments, we clean. On clear days we can see first light around 5:30, and the sun rise signals the end of our day. The same people for whom we took over twelve hours earlier relieve us at 6:45, and we take the bus back home. If you’re interested in calling, I wake up around 4pm and leave for work just after 6.

Red punch downs

No comments: