Monday, November 08, 2010

The Three Day Weekend (Part one)

Friday I took a PTO day from my day job. I hope it's my last for awhile, I'm down under 60 hours now of time off. There was rain in the forecast though for Friday night so we knew it was time to bring in the last of our grapes for this year.

I left the house at 7:15 to get cash out from the bank and put gas in the car. I'd need the cash to pay the picking crew for the day. I was also down to a quarter tank of gas and knew I'd put a lot of miles on for the day. It turned out to be 156 miles in all. I was back at home at 7:30 and Millie, Jerry and our small picking crew of three were waiting for me. Stefania was already outside and we loaded up in less than two minutes and where on the road to the Split Rail vineyard.

The trip took just about 70 minutes. We were slowed a little by traffic in Santa Cruz and then by a slow moving truck on the one lane road above Corralitos on the way to the vineyard site. When we arrived Ian Brand had picked about 60 pounds of grapes and his two volunteer pickers had just arrived on site.

Things moved pretty quickly. Our experienced pickers made short work of the vineyard and Stefania and I sorted grapes as they brought them in. It gave me a chance to catch up with Ian some. For the past two months we've talked, emailed or texted almost daily, but I don't think we've had a conversation over 5 minutes in length. Both too busy. In all we took about 3/4 of a ton from the vineyard this year. The extra week helped a lot. Ian thought the brix would be 23. I guessed 25. Stef would measure it at 25 later in the day. It was 21.6 just two weeks ago.

It was about a 75 minute drive then to the winery. When we arrived Millie took the picking crew out into the vineyard to start picking the Chaine d'Or Cabernet that could be salvaged. Stefania started doing punchdowns and getting her lab ready to take readings on the incoming fruit. Jerry and I hooked up all the hoses and equipment we'd need to process the fruit, then he and I crushed it all in just under 30 minutes total time.

Stef let me know that the readings on the Harvest Moon showed it was time to press the must. We had wanted to wait to do that and were hoping the brix was still around 4 or 5 so we could wait out through more rain on Sunday. We can't press in the rain, we don't have a cover large enough to cover the press. So after a little discussion we decided we'd just muscle through and press that day.

I headed down into the vineyard next to check on the crew and sort what they had picked so far. Our plan was to pick into 30 lb bins and then dump into a 1/2 ton bin I had loaded on the back of the tractor. That way I could sort each bin after it was picked. The crew was moving slowly. They were cutting out bad grapes on clusters with mixed good and bad as we had done with the Chardonnay. I knew we wouldn't have time for that so I changed them up to just picking good clusters and leaving the rest.

In the end we pulled about 400 pounds of Cabernet out of the vineyard. More than we thought we could save back in August, but still a tiny amount. We processed that fruit and then everyone pitched in to clean up and make the switch over in equipment from crushing to pressing. Bins were cleaned and the pump cleaned and refitted. The hoses were switched out and the used ones cleaned. The crusher was cleaned and the press prepared. It took about 45 minutes to make the change over.

Everyone then pitched in to load the press. We transferred two full bins of Harvest Moon Cabernet. It's a messy operation and Millie splashed the most juice on herself by far. I was able to kick of the auto-program at 3:30 though and get the press going. At that point I paid two of our helpers and Millie took them back to their car in San Jose. Estella, Jerry's wife had made us all sandwiches and Stef and I were able to eat ours as the press ran.

Jerry and Gill finished cleaning up from the picks and then they too got to relax for a bit while we let the press cycle through. After about 30 minutes of break time I decided to take on another chore that needed doing. We had built two compost heeps in the lower vineyard with the stems and pressing from earlier lots. Jerry Anderson asked if we could move those as they were in the line of sight of the neighbors backyard, spoiling their view.

The spent pressing were pretty easy to move. I scooped them up with the tractors bucket and spread them down the rows as fertilizer. The stem piles where a little harder, at least for me. I can now add 'bulldozing' as a winemaking related skill I have. Turns out there is a significant art to bulldozing, especially on a grade. If you go in too high, or don't drop the bucket just right, you skim right over the top of the pile. Go in too low and you dig the bucket in and rear up the tractor on its back wheels. Eventually I got it all pushed out of sight though.

I got back up to the crushpad in time to finish up with the press. We left the dry pressings in the press and loaded in the Haut Tubee to be pressed next. I set that on a slightly shorter cycle. I knew we were loosing sunlight and cleaning the press at night is almost impossible. AS it was we did finish after dark which resulted in my most painful injury of the season. I was spreading out the pressings in the vineyard from the Haut Tubee pressing after we finished and it was dark in the vineyard. Even though I had the headlights on on the tractor I never saw the vine that smacked be just below the eye. I had a red welt for a few days.

We finished cleaning up in the dark by flashlight, but were able to return all the harvest equipment back to storage for the winter. Stefania and I left about 7:30 and were back home by 8:15.

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