I am in Italy and It’s September! I’m excited. But, my enthusiasm is not due to gelato/pasta-induced comas or the ever increasing ability to wear long sleeves and jackets. No, I am beaming with delight because it is that magical time of the year in the world of winemaking. And the busiest time of the year. The harvest! Or, vendemmia, as they say over here.
In case you didn’t already know, I was given an invitation to join Bruno and the entire De Conciliis clan for some of the 2009 harvest. Their winery and vineyards are located in the region of Campania and in the town of Prignano Cilento, a couple of hours south of Naples. I join a whole crew of people who have descended on this little town for the sole purpose of crushing some grapes. There are members of staff that have been around since the beginning as well as some young Italian winemakers that are working and also getting mentored by Bruno for their own wine. In addition, there is a young winemaker from Austria and one from California both of whom have been traveling the world harvest to harvest for the past several years.
And then there is me. The newbie. This is my very first harvest experience and I have learned heaps in just a matter of days. But, it has also made me realize that I have so much more to learn about this intricate process called winemaking. Anyway, I thought you might want a sneak peek into the world of a winery during the grape harvest. I know I would!
I come in each morning and spend the day observing and lending a hand as much as I can without getting in the way of the process. The first thing we do is taste all of the juice to assess acidity, sugars, tannins, etc. From this point, Bruno can decide the next step. Does it need more oxygen, does it need heat, to be chilled, to be racked (to separate the juice from the dead yeast, aka the lees), does it need nutrients to feed the yeast? And it’s amazing how much the juice can change in a day…even in half a day in the beginning stages of fermentation. Here is a great step by step outline of the general winemaking process if you so care to take a gander.
This is what the juice looks like before it actually becomes wine.
From this point, there are a few main activities. Each day there are different tasks to be done, but you usually don’t know what you’ll be doing until after the juice is tasted. If there are grapes coming in, we sort them by hand cassette by cassette off the truck onto a big conveyor belt. The stems are stripped from the grapes and the juice and skins travel into a tank or a press. Or the juice is immediately separated from the skins. But most of the time, we are tending to the juice already crushed. What I never realized is how much of the process is just moving wine around. From tank to tank….from press to tank…from tank to barrel…from tank or barrel to bottle, etc. That involves lots of long tubes and pumps.
Aglianico juice being separated from it's skins.
The skins and all being sent into the press.
The press rotates as an interior bag presses the remaining juice out of the grapes.
There are so many different things a winemaker has to think about on a daily basis. It really is multi-tasking at its highest form! Their mind must be in the vineyard, the tanks, the barrels and the bottle. The current vintage, the previous vintage and the next vintage. As we prepare this 2009 wine, we must also begin to bottle the 2008 vintage for release…stay tuned for bottling day!