Racking My Brain Over the Grape

springtime vineyard

Springtime in the wine valley is gorgeous!

 

People occasionally joke with me and ask, “How is it that you don’t drink all of your wine? How can you keep your hands off it? I couldn’t sit on that much inventory.” We have a chuckle over that but the truth is it’s my livelihood, folks. This is a sink-or-swim life choice and I prefer to learn the front crawl than to drown in my own creation. Wine Work = Hard Work. It’s not all lovely strolls in the vineyard admiring the morning dew on the fruit and leisurely afternoons sipping reserved vintages on a perfectly elegant yet rustic terraza gazing peacefully at the mountains that enclose the wine valley. I LIKE that picture a lot! But the reality for a newbie winemaker like myself is a little bit different …..

Guadalupe Valley wine

A lot of hard work went into this glass of wine

For example …. I’ve been trying to arrange to rack my barrels for months. Racking involves pumping the clear wine off the lees (sediment) which settles in the bottom of the barrel and is composed of dead yeast, dust from the vineyard, and maybe bits of bugs that were on the fruit at harvest, and who knows what else. Sounds yummy, no? Regular racking of the barrels aids in clarifying the wine, softening tannins, and may help enhance aromas, stabilize the wine and avoid off-flavors. So it’s one of those chores that simply needs to be scheduled in.

racking wine

These super cool barrel runners that Chente made were a big help during racking

My first year making wine I had six barrels that were all on the floor. Racking them was a daunting process for my newbie winemaking creds but not impossible to wrap my head around. I just needed help lifting those heavy suckers through the window of my wine room until I was able to widen the door! My second year making wine however I more than doubled production and my barrels are stacked two high. So? Well if I was only working with one or two varietals it wouldn’t pose such a problem. Or if I planned to bottle all of my wines at the same time. But nooooooo. I have both single varietal wines and blends. And I want to bottle some wines young and leave others in the barrel to age longer. If my young wine is on the bottom tier that poses a problem at bottling time.

winemaking in Mexico

Me with my first four barrels of wine in 2012

Then there’s the spectacular conundrum of blending wine! If I need half a barrel for one of my wines, what do I do with the other half? Barrels have to be kept full or the wine turns to vinegar so perhaps you are getting a glimpse of my dilemma. Both Lady in Red and 50 Shades of Red are blends. Since I plan to bottle 50 Shades as a young wine some time towards the end of April I needed to re-create and finalize that blend …  well, yesterday.

Without boring you to tears, let’s just say that both my spatial and mathematical thinking were stretched to the limits. And the absolute truth is, that if I hadn’t had my brilliant friend Chente to help me problem solve as well as do the heavy lifting …. The wines would still be on their mother-loving lees!

racking wine

I think a new pump may be in my future …..

Oh. And here’s the other fun part. My little 12 volt SureFlo pump that has two wires sticking out of it instead of a plug and has to be connected to a car battery to run, only pumps 2 gallons a minute. HAHAHAHHHAAA! I had more than 800 gallons of wine to move. Do the math, kiddos. It took us 16 + hours. Yep. And we worked solid. Our hands are black (wine has a wonderful way of staining), our backs are sore, but the babies are put to bed and let me tell you, they are some VERY good babies.

I am REALLY excited about my new dry rosé made from 100% Cinsault. It is deeply colored, with irresistible floral notes and spice. This will be my 2013 Soul Sister. Lady in Red will be a more mature and structured wine this year. The harvest was outstanding, the fruit perfect, the fermentation problem-free, and the wines are stable. I made three barrels of this Mourvédre based blend this year and hope it will eventually be my flagship wine. This year I fiddled a bit with 50 Shades of Red and added Tempranillo (which I LOVE) to this Grenache based blend, along with bits of Syrah, Mourvédre and Cabernet. I think it’s going to be a winner. Perhaps Lust, my premium Syrah, is the wine that will be the most noticeably different. The fruit I worked with this last harvest is superior in every way to 2012.  I am quite pleased with its development so far. It is loaded with juicy fruit, well-integrated tannins and spice and I believe will take on some good qualities from the barrel.

racking wine

The babies have been put back to bed!

Okay … and now we get to my unintentional blending blunder. It was around 3 am in the morning and Chente and I were working steadily, determined to get the wines racked, the barrels cleaned, the blends and barrels organized, etc. But by this time of the wee hours I was getting rummy. I had taken half a barrel of Tempranillo earlier for my 50 Shades blend and intended to top off the newly racked barrel with un-oaked Tempranillo in carboys. Oops. I was tired and didn’t read the careful label I’d attached to the tambo. So I ended up topping the barrel with Cinsault! Crap! Tempranillo is my monovarietal Bold Sister label. So apparently it’s not going to be a monovarietal this year. Oops. I thought Chente would strangle me because it meant lifting more carboys to fill the Cinsault barrel and we were dead tired. I was contrite but am curious how it will turn out. Hopefully it will be one of those happy accidents. I have a hunch I’m not the first winemaker to make a similar goof. More on that as the wines develop!

Baja wine

I’ve got wine!

I don’t have a storage facility so live with cases of finished wine in nearly every room of my house. Someday I’ll have furniture, but for now let’s just say I’m determined to learn the front crawl. Woot Woot!

mexican wine

Still life with wine ….

Thanks so much for all of your support and for taking an interest in my winemaking journey.

Big Shout-out to Robin for swinging by and helping rack our Killer Cab!

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5 Responses to “Racking My Brain Over the Grape”

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  1. Donna Stewart says:

    We can take some of your wonderful wine off your hands, any chance of hoofin it up to SD? You know we can only take 2bottles…Donna and Gary.

  2. Racking is like going to the dentist. You don’t really want to do, but you know you HAVE to do it! Don’t forget about the “chateau chente”. Sorry I couldn’t stay longer. Next time….mon ami.

    • valleygirl says:

      GF you are SO right about that. We may have close to 100 liters of Chateau Ruffian. Thanks for reminding me …. I’m going to have to rack that bad boy pretty soon ;)

  3. Diana Covarelli says:

    Happy to hear the proverbial fruits of our labor in 2013 are aging gloriously !!!

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