For the second week of work, we start at 8am everyday. I’ve been stuck with pumpovers. Which isn’t bad. It's a chance to see and taste all the fermentations as they progress. Checking sugars, does the fermentation smell good, checking the temperature, if you start to smell sulfides then giving it air. Lately with all the fermentations we have going, it takes me the full 8 hours to complete them. And that doesn’t include all my side tasks. Cleaning tanks, or look that tank is overflowing so we need to find a place to fit some juice, or make up all the additions, or rehydrating yeast to inoculate a tank. And then next think you know, it's already 6 pm. I’m tired. Covered in grape juice/wine. And when we actually are all done cleaning up from the day. It’s 8 pm. These long and busy days are pretty typical during harvest. It's what I expected, but it doesn't make it any less tiring.
Even though I'm doing pumpovers, we are still receiving and processing fruit. This week I think we processed more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Viognier. Besides our vineyard at Sunshine Creek, we get fruit from other vineyards as well.
And after a long day, Simon and I still have to walk home. It's just a short walk, but on the way home it's slightly uphill. Sometimes it’s still light outside. And some days it’s dark and we have to walk by the light of our cell phones. Kangaroos come out at night. And when we're walking home in the dark, you can hear all the kangaroos hopping around us and through the vineyard.
One of these nights walking home, Simon tells me about drop bears. That apparently they hide in the trees at night, they're as big as a bear, but swift like a panther. And that they kill hundreds of people every year. He's pretty convincing. And immediately I start looking at all the trees, actually a little worried. There's deadly snakes and spiders, so sure there's deadly drop bears too. I start asking all these questions like "OMG, are they around here, have you ever seen one?!" And he just starts laughing... apparently they're a made up creature to scare away tourists. I googled drop bears and there's hilarious pictures of koalas with fangs.
At the end of this week, I have worked 12 days straight. Working probably around 65-70 hours a week. When the boss said that I get to have Sunday off....THANK GOD.
So initially I thought that I was going to be able to write a blog entry on each day. But starting to realize that I don't have time for that...or that some days will be just about the same as others. So I'll just keep it short and sweet and probably just summarize a few days together.
For days 4-7 that's Thursday thru Sunday. Basically all the days start to meld together, working really long hours, and there's so much that needs to be done in one day. It's hard to remember it all. So at the start of harvest, they have me doing pumpovers. A pumpover is when you need to homogenize your fermentation vessel. And with red wine fermentations, since you ferment on the skins and seeds, all those skins and seeds float to the top of the tank and can create a cap. This is created from all the CO2 that is being produced by the yeast, pushing everything to the top. Yeast is what converts your grape sugars to alcohol, and ta-dah you have wine! That's basic winemaking 101 for ya. Anyways, back to pumpovers. You don't really want to let the cap sit on top of too long. Because skins can get dried out and create pockets in the wine that can make it hard for yeast to ferment in certain areas. So we homogenize the fermentation vessel by basically sucking up juice from the bottom of the tank and pumping it over the cap, in hopes that your mixing the tank and wetting the cap. You usually pump a tank over for 5-10 minutes. And at the beginning of harvest, we maybe had 3 tanks that needed to be pumped over. Sure, one hour of pumpovers, and I'm done. But as more fruit came in from the vineyard, and more tanks start to ferment, it's now taking me almost the full day to complete these pumpovers.
The first fruit we received from the vineyard is Pinot Noir. (But before I got there, they received some Heathcote Syrah. Heathcote is a slightly northern grape growing area.) And we received some Pinot Noir clones I've worked with before, and am familiar with their characteristics. We get Pommard (Pom) and 777. Pom is probably one of my favorite Pinot clones, it's usually a fruit forward clone with tasty bright red fruit characteristics that really coat your mouth with delicate tannins and a good body. But then we started to received some clones I haven't heard of. Like MV6, 916, and a few others.
Then we started to received Chardonnay. And then more Pinot, and well I can't really remember the order of the fruit we received.
It's my first weekend here in Australia, and I worked. Which is what I figured, days off are rare during harvest and are usually extended hours. So I wasn't really expecting a day off. More pumpovers to do!
So there’s a few more things to do today! I like it when it's busy at work. It makes the day go by faster. And today I started by cleaning two dirty tanks that look like that haven’t been cleaned since last year. They still had stuck on dried grapes and lees. After cleaning the tanks, I got to do a wine transfer! The wine transfer is a little more exciting that cleaning tanks.
They wanted me to transfer some wine from a 1,000 Liter VC tank to an oak cask. (For reference 1,000 liters is about 264 gallons.) For my non winery friends a VC tank means it’s a variable capacity tank. This tank is basically a cylindrical can with a movable lid. It allows you to put whatever amount of wine you have (as long as it fits in the tank) with a floating lid that sits on top of the wine. This allows for no headspace or room for oxygen to interact with the wine. Too much oxygen interaction with a finished wine can cause oxidation, which is considered as a wine fault.
Anyways, back to the wine transfer. The winery has these pumps I’ve never used before. They're relatively large pumps, at least in comparison to the ones I'm used to. And these new pumps have a clear covering on the side, so you can see the mechanism turning. It's called a Peristaltic pump. It'd basically a big roller moves the wine through the lines. Simon described it to me like squeezing toothpaste out. Wikipedia has a better visual description "A peristaltic pump is a type of positive displacement pump used for pumping a variety of fluids. The fluid is contained within a flexible tube fitted inside a circular pump casing. A rotor with a number of "rollers", "shoes", "wipers", or "lobes" attached to the external circumference of the rotor compresses the flexible tube. As the rotor turns, the part of the tube under compression is pinched closed thus forcing the fluid to be pumped to move through the tube." I'll have to take a video of it running so you can really see how it works. I've never used or have seen these pumps before, but they're really gentle on the wine. Other pumps use compressed air or paddles which isn't necessarily the most gentle when transferring wine. Simon gave me a quick overview on how to work the pump. It was a little strange at first, and my biggest fear is blowing up a pump or lines. So I always try to be cautious when using pumps.
I fill the cask as much as possible and then there only a small amount of wine left in the VC, I’m told just to drain what’s left into a bucket and pour the rest into the top of the cask. The cask is basically an extra large barrel. It has a door and valves on the side and bottom. But on top is just a 2” opening for the bung. So I drain what's left in the VC tank into buckets and start to pour the wine into a funnel at the top of the cask. The cask is quite full, but I’m always a bad judgement at how much wine it’ll actually take to fill barrels/casks. So as I’m pourig wine into this cask. It’s suddently full and all the wine I just poured into the funnel, is just pouring all over the side of the cask. And onto the ground. Shit. It was only about a gallon or so.. but still. I hate spilling or wasting wine. Stuff like this happens all the time in a winery. But just hoping it didn't make me look to bad on only my second day at work.
So it’s my first day of work at Sunshine Creek! I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. I’ve come to realize that all winemakers are different, and each has their quirks about how they run a cellar. And also on sanitation, some winemakers will want you to sanitize everything and there’s others who are more relaxed on sanitation. So basically it’s just easier to act dumb and listen to what they say on how they do things in the cellar. I don’t want to step on any toes on my first day.
My first day was relatively uneventful. They had already received fruit and processed it, but it was still in its cold soak stage, so no pump-overs just yet. The main tasks I was given was cleaning. Which is the usual at a winery. There’s this saying that “Winemaking is only 10% making wine, 90% cleaning things”. And I was stuck on cleaning the drains for most of the day. Drain duty isn’t one of the most glamorous jobs. It’s one of those jobs that has to be done, but nobody wants to do it. Usually winemakers will stick this job with the new interns. And well, that new intern is me. Luckily for me they weren’t too disgusting yet. This was a newly built winery with no grapes and gunk clogging up the drains yet, but just dirt and rocks and pieces of plastic leftover from construction. The winemaker also gave me a broom to make sure I got all the pieces of dirt and rocks. Again like I said, not glamourous, but just one of those jobs that has to be done.
Okay enough about drains, but that’s really all I remember doing that day. Cleaning drains. And then for dinner that night, you guessed it, leftover Pasta!