Thursday, November 4, 2010

Digging in the Dirt

With all due respect to Peter Gabriel and his groundbreaking 1992 video (watch here:, I doubt that he ever had to dig out a fermentation tank.

Once the fermentation process has ended, it's time to drain the wine out of the tank and then press the remaining skins that have risen to the top of the liquid. The "free run" (aka "free flow") wine is drained from the bottom valve and pumped into barrels or another holding tank. Pumping into another tank is called "racking" and it helps remove the lees, or dead yeast cells, from the wine. Watch the free run wine gush out of this tank:

After the majority of the wine has been drained, we open the tank's door and dig out all the skins. We put them in bins and then squeeze them in the press. The press runs through a sequence of pressings that increase in intensity, and that means that we end up with 3 types of wine:  free run, light press, and heavy press. Free run makes the best wine, while heavy press makes the least desirable (more on this topic later).
This is what the grape skins & seeds look like after fermentation

A tank is considered a "confined space" by OSHA, so we have to follow certain safety rules when entering.  This is why I had to put on a safety harness and ensure that one of my coworkers was present at all times (presumably to rescue me if I were to pass out):

A safety harness that looks like a parachute harness,
and a bucket of ozonated water (sanitizer) for my feet

At work in the tank...

These grape skins were surprisingly cold! Even though this particular tank reached a peak temperature of roughly 90°F (32°C), by the time I got in to scoop out the skins the temperature had fallen back to about 63°F (17°C).

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