A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman



A New Home for the Grapes

Into the cooler they went, after their hour and a half ride to the Stinson Family Winery, a delightful new winery that is perfectly suited for our precious crop. As meticulous as we are in the vineyard, they too are in their winery. Their equipment was sparkling new. In fact, our Pinot grapes were the first grapes to be processed there.

Soon after I arrived at the winery, the renowned and delightful French winemaker, Monsieur Matthieu Finot, arrived.  With quick and determined steps, he headed directly toward the cold room where the lugs of grapes were stacked.  He stood at the closed door, eyes fixed on it as it lifted.  As soon as the door was high enough for him to walk under it, he squeezed himself between the stacks and began popping berries into his mouth.  My eyes studied his, trying to read his reaction.  This was one of those moments of truth.  Just how good are these grapes?  Will they be able to make the fine wine the Stinsons hope to be able to make from our grapes? 
He stopped, still chewing the grapes and turned to me.  He nodded. And with his delightfully thick French acccent proclaimed, "Eet is goood. Zee grapes are goood!"  I wanted to jump with arms raised in victory-mode, but I restrained myself and uttered something subdued like "Really?  Wonderful!"

The grapes would rest in the cooler two nights.  On Friday at 7 am, we all convened at the winery to destem and sort the fruit.  The clouds were heavy and gray, the air a bit cooler, comfortable enough for us to process everything outside on the crush pad. An intense and exciting energy pulsated as two families of "newbies" went to work.  Matthieu moved swiftly and gracefully around the equipment, with such grace, ease and familiarity... setting up, connecting, arranging, plugging.  It was like watching a ballet.

The grapes were brought out.  In my mind, I heard the drumroll!  And the  process began. First, each lug was dumped into the destemmer that spit out the stems to one side and dropped the fruit onto the vibrating sorting table where we picked through the grapes and pulled out any leftover stems the machine missed.

We were surprised by the arrival of our daughter, Rachel, and little Owen, who came to experience first-hand the grapes-to-wine process.  Owen could not quite figure it all out, but certainly tried.

Below are the stems that were spit out by the destemmer and below that is the T-bin fillling up with the sorted fruit after taking a ride up the conveyor belt.  Up to the sky they rose for one brief, final moment, catching their last glint of sunlight before their life inside a toasted French oak barrel begins.

At one point the destemmer stopped functioning.  We began removing the stems by hand.  Oh... this was going to take a very, very long time.   Matthieu got on the phone and was speaking French to someone from the company in South Africa.  Seems there was a voltage setting issue.  A few adjustments. 
Let it rest. Working again.  Thank you, thank you!

In less time than I expected, we were done, the T-bin was full. 

I rubbed my fingers over the grapes and smelled their sweetness.  Matthieu began working his magic.. a little of this, a little of that.. additions to protect the fruit until the fermentaion process begins after a time of chilling down first.  He plunged a hollow pipe into the fruit, stuck the end of a pump hose into the pipe and pumped over the juice from the bottom of the bin over the top of the fruit.

And then out comes a giant box of plastic wrap!  Mattthieu shows eveyone how to make a removable cover with it, one that keeps out the fruit flies, but allows the CO2 to escape.  After securing the top, Nathan slips the pallette jack under the T-bin and slowly rolls the bin into the cold room where it will spend a bit of time settling down before it is brought up to room temperature to begin the fermentation process.

And into the cooler you go!

You are on your way, my sweet grapes.

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