In late June, I got a call from Mr. B. He asked if I wanted 2 TONS of grapes this year. I instantly replied, “YES!” Prior to that call, I worried that I would not get any grapes this year. So of course, I was psyched by any number he threw out. The next day, I realized that it would be impossible to transport such a huge quantity of grapes (4K LBS!) to Houston in my brother-in-law’s Tahoe. So, I called Mr. B, and we decided I would take a small amount of one of his lots. He also suggested that I head to Kerrville for a week to work in a winery (Kerrville Hills) in August. I accepted. And that’s when the real fun began.
I secured my time off from work and packed for a week of labor/learning. After a four hour drive, I arrived, ready to jump right in. I knew I would learn a ton…I did not yet know that Kerrville would be where I would create my first commercial vintage.
On my first day, there wasn’t much work to do because no fruit arrived; it was the perfect way to ease in and spend time getting to know everyone. We wrapped up early, so I decided to get settled into my Airbnb, do a quick workout, and find a meal. After reviewing the recommendations from my Airbnb host, my choice was clear; I would dine at Grape Juice, quite fitting given my work week ahead. By the way, if you ever find yourself in Kerrville, definitely check out Grape Juice. I ended up dining there four times during my stay. They also have a great patio!
The next day, we got started right at 8am. It was a pressing day! Several red wines had completed primary fermentation and were ready to be pressed off their skins.
Day two was also an exciting day, because on that day, over 100 barrels arrived! So, I got a great workout, tons of time to learn more about everyone there, and I got some good ol’ vitamin D.
Day Three & Day Four
On the third day, THE CAUSE GOT ON THE BOARD! That’s right, I agreed to buy a half ton of petite sirah. So, The Cause Urban Winery was added to the winery’s board of upcoming “picks.” A whole bunch of other things happened that day, but honestly, getting added to the board is almost all I remember. I also convinced my husband, Drew, to drive up that night so he could see everything for himself the next day.
Day four was AMAZING. Why?! Well, I got to work in a winery with my husband. AND, I ended up buying more than triple the amount of grapes I originally agreed to buy (and Drew was okay with this; thanks Drew!). So, I ended up with 1.7 tons of petite sirah. This means that after barrel maturation and bottling, I will have somewhere around 700-800 bottles of wine available for sale!
We ran my petite sirah through the must pump to crush it a little and to even it out into bins. I have been asked many times…did you crush your grapes with your feet, I Love Lucy style??! No. And, I probably won’t do that anytime soon (because it’s messy, because you have to sanitize yourself, because it’s inefficient). Yes, it absolutely could be a ton of fun, but it is probably more trouble than it’s worth.
That evening, my petite sirah went to “sleep” (or perhaps started “partying”) in three bins after being inoculated with two different yeasts. I decided to add two different yeasts to see if it could add complexity (at Mr. B’s recommendation).
Oh also, I did my first pump over on day four. Kerrville Hills has some very large tanks, and pumping over is the method used to keep the grape skins in contact with the juice during fermentation.
Day Five – Seven
I’ve said it before and I will say it again…wine-making mostly consists of cleaning and sanitizing. I spent much of my time in Kerrville sweeping grape skins, cleaning bins, cleaning totes, cleaning the destemmer, cleaning the press, sanitizing hoses, sanitizing buckets, etc. But y’all, you know you are home when you have a smile on your face doing every one of those things. I had a blast even while sweeping skins off the floor, because I was in the space where the magic happens.
But then I also got to make my wine! Since I opted for bin fermentation, I would need to do punch downs to keep the skins in contact with the juice. On day five, fermentation was clearly off to a great start. I then punched down twice per day until pressing (on day 12).
On day five, I also got to help bottle some brand new baby wine! Ten Mile Productions had finished one of their wines, Blanc du Bois. It was sterile filtered the day before and ready to bottle!
Day six was a blur — no time to take any pictures. But, I am sure I spent lots of time cleaning, sanitizing, and running samples through a fancy machine called an oenofoss (yay, chemistry!). On day seven, some more beautiful fruit came in. Below is a picture of Fly Gap Winery‘s gorgeous Mourvèdre.
I got to help make some saignée rosé on that day as well. Saignée is also known as the “bleed off” method. For this method, the winemaker intends to use the grapes primarily for a red wine, but they also bleed off or remove juice that has formed after crushing. How do you do that and not also remove skins and seeds and stuff? Either you have a lot of wine and bleed it off from the tank, or you attach a fancy device to your hose!
Day Eight – Eleven
Days eight through eleven consisted of making more saignée rosé, pump overs, racking, running samples, punching down, sweeping, cleaning, sanitizing, etc. I also got to hang out with my new friends at the winery. By the way, winemakers drink a lot of beer during harvest season. Why do they drink beer you ask?! Probably because wine tastes way different when its undergoing fermentation. If you drink finished wine during harvest, you can mess up your palate for assessing fermenting wine.
Pressing & Racking
Did I mention that I ended up staying longer than originally planned?! Yup! I did not want to leave my baby wine until it was safely through the first racking. So, I stayed in Kerrville for about two weeks.
On August 16th, it was finally time to press my petite sirah off its skins. Fermentation was done! We already added malolactic bacteria to kick off secondary fermentation which would give my wine an extra bit of protection during pressing.
About twenty-four to forty-eight hours after pressing, it is time to conduct the first racking. If you recall from my last post about racking, this is the process where a winemaker transfers wine from one vessel into another vessel. The first racking is especially important, because a wine needs to be separated from its its gross lees (dead yeast and other stuff) after it settles. If gross lees are left in contact with a wine for too long, off flavors can develop. By the way, racking with commercial winery equipment makes the process so much more efficient! A pump and a hose meant that the process took only about 20 minutes (after cleaning and sanitizing, of course).
Until I See You Again
I decided that I would stay through this first racking, and then head home to my husband and dog. But, I will be back in Kerrville sometime soon! My next trip will be to barrel down my wine (that is the fancy way to say that I will put my wine into barrels). I expect to mature my petite sirah in barrels for about 1.5 years before bottling. So, if you actually read this far, thank you for your interest, and thank you for your patience! I can’t wait until you can try my first commercially available wine!
Also, I’m in the market for commercial space in Houston where I will make future wine. Let me know if you see something cool and available!
Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR): Jenn worked in a winery (Kerrville Hills) for two weeks. It was amazing. She made friends and her own wine (petite sirah). Her wine will go into barrels for 1-2 years. She expects to have The Cause Urban Winery’s first commercial vintage(s) available for sale Winter 2021 thanks to Kerrville Hills. Yay!