The Winemaker’s Apprentice

Oct 9, 2011 by

mickey mouse as the sorceror's apprenticeUsually, that’s me: The Winemaker’s Apprentice. Which is to say that Andy is the brains of the operation who sweeps in with the plan and I’m the one who stays up here and executes it. The whole punchdown phase of primary fermentation, which used to take a lot of brute force and ignorance, has been reduced to a fairly easy proposition now that we’ve forsaken open vats for enclosed steel tanks. While the sheer muscle power needs have been reduced, winemaking, I still find, is like sailing: it doesn’t really require that much physical labor, but there are times when it would be so much easier if you had three hands. Still, if there is one thing I’ve learned by watching way too many Westerns, it’s that sometimes, when the going gets rough, you have to deputize.

That’s how I plucked DJ off of John the Baptist’s crew and made him Winemaker’s Apprentice. Although technically, he’s Apprentice to the Winemaker’s Apprentice. The real crime is probably that a badge and the adoration of the local schoolmarm didn’t come with the appointment. Still, DJ proved equal to the task. At least as good as Dean Martin was for John Wayne in Rio Bravo. Which means he let me have the most lines — as I told him all about the process of turning crushed grapes into wine — while like Dino’s scene stealing turn as the alcoholic deputy — he reserved the best line for himself. I explained the basics of fermentation, how the yeasts eat the sugar and excrete alcohol (literally killing themselves by creating an increasingly inhospitable environment). DJ summed the whole thing up with horror: “You mean wine is yeast piss?!”

dj punching down grapes

Here’s DJ punching down the grapes in some of the overflow bins. This is the easy stuff.

dj punches down grenache

This is much harder: cliimbing on a ladder and punching down the cap with a masher. Where you need that third hand is to remove the tank cap carefully, and of course, to hold the camera.

Then I immediately came to the wrong conclusion as I asked him: “I guess you are more a Jack Daniels man.” No, DJ assured me, he’d left that sort of foolishness far behind him (he’s in his early 20s!) But he did add that he would turn to wine drinking if that became a job requirement. Good boy. If I’m the Duke and you are playing the Dean Martin/Alcoholic Deputy role, you’ll have to drink something.

In any case, we’ve got our act down pat now. Inside of twenty minutes, we can punch down three different varietals, take the temperature and specific gravity reading on each, clean up and get back to other business.

That’s the John Wayne-Dean Martin equivalent of the quick draw that downs all the bad guys in the final Rio Bravo shootout.

still from Rio Bravo

We’re just not sure we know someone annoying enough to take the Walter Brennan role.

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  1. It’s that baby face. But he does a man’s work out cutting brush, building trails and restoring woodlands here.

  2. I agree with Susan; DJ can’t be over 12!
    I was wondering how you got him out of school. LOL

  3. Usually my friends stay far away from Sonoma at this time, because everyone who is ambulatory is put to work!

  4. Susan A

    I’m not buying that DJ’s in his 20s. He looks about 12! If I were the local schoolmarm, I’d wash his mouth out with soap for saying “yeast piss.” But it was awful sweet of him to help you out.” Can’t wait for the next installment of the winemaking follies. I love your posts especially this time of year. Would love to be up there some year to help out.

  5. I don’t know. How annoying can you be? Because a little Walter Brennan goes a long long way.

  6. Me! Pick me for Walter’s part.

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