It's nice to return to our web site after quite an absence away. We finished the season of the Agriturismo two Sundays ago. That Sunday morning we waved the last guests goodbye and enjoyed a moment's peace. Monday morning was straight into the winery to prepare for the Harvest and the first grapes came in on Tuesday morning!
The speed at which grapes mature depend upon many factors including the temperature and weather conditions during flowering and fruiting and the amount of sun falling on the leaves. This year the white grapes, which begin the cycle were held-back by the brutal spring weather. Thus the time difference between the white and red grapes was greatly reduced and within the space of ten days we harvested all the grape varieties except one.
This year, for the first time, we were operating a refrigeration unit to cool the grape must prior to fermentation (allowing a prior clarification of the juice of the dust, bits or leaves, insects etc.) and to control the fermentation temperature.
Prior to the harvest I harboured familiar forebodings that come with the application of new techniques or the operation of new machinery. Not having studied enology or winemaking and not having experienced other wineries we are of the learning by doing school and the doing always involves a fair bit of crying!!
I have to say that the machinery - 20 years old - functioned as it should. It did the job and the mistakes we made this first time carried no grave consequences. However, the poor grape-growing conditions this year had left the grapes somewhat deficient in nutrients required by the fermentation yeasts. That and a grape must still and lacking in dissolved oxygen (yeast need to breath too, you know) confronted us with a juice that just wouldn't begin the alcoholic fermentation.
Of course, we didn't know at first that the fermentation train wouldn't leave the station and as it became plain that we had a problem that we had never before experienced we had to suppress the niggling thought 'what if the must never ferments, what will happen to the juice then?'.
Working with yeast is like working with any living thing. You can bring it to water but you can't make it drink! So it was a case of creating - on a small scale - conditions so attractive that the yeast couldn't help but begin to go forth and multiply and then scale this up for all the must. It was like being a yeast horse-whisperer!
The days passed and each night one would go to bed saying 'I've done the best I can for today. Tomorrow is another day and I'll face its challenges then. No point in ruining the evening with worry' but nonetheless waking up at 3.00 a.m. worrying about what would have to be done if in the morning there was no progress from the previous day.
One by one the tanks of must began to ferment and each of these current days seems lighter for not having the previous weeks worry on one's shoulders!