Friday, October 1, 2010

Pressing Matters

Adesso, sono un garagista! (Now I am a garagista!).

Yesterday (day 6 of the wine fermenting "on the skins"), I pressed the must, wringing every drop of savory juice I could from the skins and pulp with my trusty second hand torchio (wine press).
Now the fermenting wine is safely fizzing away in 54 liter (14 gallon) glass demigianne (demijohns). From right to left are: The "frivolous" rosato; the elegant day 5 salasso (drawn-off) rosso; the serious day 6 free run (unpressed) red, and the nearly black day 6 press wine red -- about 189 liters (50 gallons) of fermenting wine!

Going back over projections I jotted down last winter, I see that I originally planned on about 27 gallons of red and 7 gallons of white wine (about a bottle per vine) or a total of 128 liters. Despite the oidio, birds, deer, and hare damage, and thanks to the back-up grapes Elisabetta offered from ancient Pieve San Stefano, we overshot by 30%! Rather than the miserable 20% yield (37 liters) I was expecting, we threw a ton of grapes to the ground and selected only the best bunches and still have 236 bottles of wine (about 20 cases if every drop makes it) bubbling away! At least as far as quantity goes, I'd call that snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

What remains to be seen, or rather tasted, is the ultimate quality of my product. For now, I am happy to report that the juice that oozed through the slats of the press basket yesterday was a delicious explosion of cherries, with chewy but not bitter tannins, and reasonably bright acids. And of course the taste of yeast one expects in fermenting wine.

What kind of wine do I most want to craft? I would love to create an elegant, fruit-forward, terroir-driven wine that tastes like you've just kissed a pirate who's eaten a fistful of blackberries, with dark notes of violet, wolf pelt, and female musk sprinkled in. But more importantly, I want it to be a pure expression of this place and the effort I've spent here. I want it to show just how much of myself I am willing to pour into the task at hand.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Known as pigeage in French and follatura in Italian, punching down the cap of floating skins, seeds and stems that rise to the top of the fermenting must, at least twice a day, is crucial for leaching every drop of vital flavors and polyphenols and keeping unwanted nasty molds from growing. I do it 4 times a day, very very gently to keep the whole grapes, which are undergoing a different kind of enzyme driven fermentation (carbonic maceration), from breaking apart.

The first shot was day 1. Here is what it looks like on day 5 of being "on the skins."

It's kind of fun, like playing with your food or making mud pies. My arm gets all purple. And the room fills with the headiest aroma of yeast and grapes and cherries!

Nice color extraction!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Broth from Bones

One thing I do frequently in the kitchen is make savory stocks from leftover bones, fishheads, etc. My freezer in New York is filled with ziplock bags laid on their sides and frozen like shingles, all labeled and dated, the basis of many a good gumbo and sauce.

Like the bones and other tidbits left at the end of a meal, the remaining under-ripe grapes on the lower, less sunny, more oidio prone vines in the vineyard would not let me sleep. Was there something I could do with them besides make vinegar? Were there enough good grapes there to make a little, say, an easy going apperitivo? Something thirst-quenching that doesn't need to assert itself during summertime sunset conversation? Maybe a frivolous rosato (rose')? Or an unassuming Prosecco-like spumante? Waking up with a resounding "yes!" in my head, I began to scheme. That was yesterday, Sunday.

Fast-forward to lunch. Sally and I talk over our Salad Nicoise of mainly ingredients from the garden. "I would like to pick the rest of the grapes (etc.)," I say, "Maybe tomorrow with Alesio. Could you help for 2 or 3 hours? Don't worry; it's nothing like the work of the first batch."


"I'm thinking of making frivolous rose' out of them."


"The only thing is wineries are starting to make rose' here now, so it wouldn't stand out as unique. Maybe it would just be easier to let the grapes go and keep buying inexpensive rose'? On the other hand, nobody makes a sparkling wine here. A sparkling rose' would truly be unique. It could be the champagne of Tuscany."

"Let's make that!"

"The only problem with sparkling wines is you have to start with lower sugar so there's room to add a little bit more yeast and grape juice to carbonate it in the bottle without the alcohol killing off the yeast before it can."


"And since the grapes were already at that level (19 Brix) when I checked last week, they are already in danger of getting out of that range. For a unique spumante rosato, I should really pick them NOW."


It took from 2:00 to 7:00 p.m. to bring them in (under threatening skies) and select only the best bunches into the 100 liter vat. By 8:00 o'clock they were stomped (again by my feet) and left to sit overnight.

Just now, at 10:00 a.m. Monday, I have inoculated the must with yeast. There they are, the leftovers, stewing in their own juices, extracting a little color and flavor from the skins as polyphenols, making a rich and savory broth from the bones.