cab coming out of bladder pressMaybe it’s our strange and disasterous weather this growing season. Or maybe we just got sloppy. But we dropped the ball on parts of this harvest. Or harvests, I should say. One of the things we didn’t think about when we planted four different varietals was that it would mean four different harvests and processing periods. So take the process for shepherding a grape from vine to steel tank: I usually have to move up here about a week or two before we think the grapes are fully ripe. I take obsessive daily readings waiting for that magic moment when the sugar or BRIX gets to about 25. Then there is a full day of hard labor harvesting and crushing, followed by a week to ten days of three times a day punch downs in primary fermentation vats. Once the bulk of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, there is another labor intensive day of pressing the juice off the skins and transferring the juice into sealed steel secondary fermentation vats. At this point, you can usually kick back, putter around, take a few readings and maybe think about cleaning the grape juice out from under your fingernails. Except at Two Terrier Vineyards. With four separate grapes — all of which ripen on a different schedule. Harvest time is sort of like a busy day at O’Hare. You get one 747 off the runway and there’s always another plane coming in for a landing. Which is why I camp out in the barn pretty much from August to mid-Novemeber.

However, this was The Year of the Summer that Never Came. Until August when it came in with a vengence in wave after wave of heat spells that just ended (we think) last week. That’s thrown every harvest out of whack and completely jiggered the schedule — if anything related to farming can be said to run on any semblance of a human schedule.

measuring wine's specific gravity

An earlier specific gravity reading of 1020. When SG gets to about 1000 or 1010, time to press. Unfortunately, the Cinsault sat on the skins long past that point.

All of this backstory is by way of explaining why we found ourselves with half a ton of Cinsault that was technically ready for pressing last week, but had to sit in primary fermentation until Andy could get back from various business trips. He’s the only one who can set up the incredibly complicated Rube Goldbergian system of hoses and pumps, duct tape and chewing gum that we use to get liquid from one vat to another. That bottleneck makes our operation much like a lot of companies in the non-farming world. There’s always one guy who refuses to share technical knowledge in an effort to force some sort of job security. (Note to self: tap into my inner McGuyver and figure out a way I can handle this end on my own since the corporate schedule can’t be expected to coordinate with Mother Nature’s schedule.)

I can't even begin to explain the system of hoses and pumps we've cobbled together to allow two people to process a ton or so of grapes from primary to secondary fermentation containers. Chateau McGuyver?

In any case, I covered the finished Cinsault tightly with plastic, prayed that the last gasp of the yeast would exhale enough CO2 to create a barrier and hoped the grapes would hold until we could get to it. Getting to it happened today. And the jury’s still out on what the result is.

I’ve mentioned before that Cinsault is a traditional blending grape in the Rhone. It is sweet, pink and fruity. So much so that it’s typically used as only 3 to 5% of a blend. Which is why we only planted one and half short rows of the stuff, compared to seven long rows each of Mourvedre and Grenache. Unfortunately, the Cinsault didn’t get the memo that grape yields are down 40-60% around Sonoma and Napa this year. We found ourselves with a record harvest. So we’re blending in more of the Cinsault than we ever expected we would be. Certainly in the Rosé — to make up for a seriously reduced Grenache harvest. But we’ll probably find ourselves adding more than the usual amount of Cinsault to our regular Rhone blends as well. That still won’t use up all of it.

That may leave us actually having to create a 100% Cinsault varietal, which is a scary thought. Unless you are an 18 year old who likes Boone’s Farm Strawberry Wine. Because that’s about what I can imagine a 100% Cinsault would taste like. There are a few places in California that make 100% Cinsault. I haven’t gotten myself to the point of actually putting money down to buy a bottle or a glass. I think it would leave me in tears.

Or maybe we won’t have to face this dilemma. The unexpected holding pattern as the Cinsault waited for pressing may have ruined it. We’ll see.

We’ll either have Chateau Bazooka. Or a lot of Cinsault will be central in a pagan inspired “return the wine to the Earth” ceremony.

NOTE: The Wine Boffin has asked me to clarify on the SG reading of 1000 of 1010 which is when we press. That reading doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the SG we stay at. The idea is to ferment the wine until it is completely dry, unless you are making a desert wine. So the process continues in the secondary fermentation.

However, it’s difficult to measure below 1000SG with a Hygrometer because the alcohol is a different SG than water, (which is exactly 1000 SG),  so once the sugar converts to over 10% alcohol it affects the reading. After that we have to use clinitest tablets to see if any sugar is present — the same process used in pregnancy tests.

Got it? Good!