The Great Muscat Harvest

August 12, 2013 No comments » [ssba]

During my internship this summer, I’m working to help achieve our sustainable certification at Ponte and I’m also working alongside the winemaking team.  Part of this means assisting during harvest season.  This is a new experience for me and may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this so I’ll share a bit of the process that I experienced during our first harvest.

This last week leading up to harvest, I have been sampling and testing the grapes.  This meant putting on my boots and hat and driving out to the vineyard blocks with Muscat grapes, the grapes that make our sparkling Moscato.  I took a bag and filled it by picking grapes from different points along the trellis and cluster.  Then, I would take the full bag back to the lab and crush the grapes into a juice to test.  Reliving my college chemistry class, I used different tests to calculate the grape’s pH, acidity, and sugar content.  With the numbers in analysis, the winemaker, vineyard manager, and consultant determined that the levels were optimal for harvest. They scheduled the best day to pick them would be Thursday, August 1st.

To begin the harvest, they wait until the temperature cools in the later afternoon.  Another intern helps with the harvest out in the vineyard by picking the grapes cleanly from the vine and putting them in crates to be transferred to the tank yard.  I was assigned to work in the transfer process and was so excited to see the first batch of grapes coming in on a tractor at around 7 pm.  The grapes were a glowing green color in the fading sunset.

Grapes coming in hot: Antonio bringing the grapes to the wine yard.

I was surprised at how full the crates were!  Each create can hold half a ton of grapes.  Cuva, our longtime cellar worker, then used the forklift to move the crates onto the weighing station where the total amount received was recorded.

A big scale: The vineyard consultant, Daniel Gomez,
weighing and recording the grapes as they came into the yard.

The received grapes were then transferred into the destemming machine.  This is where my help came in.  As each crate was lifted and tilted, the grapes needed assistance being transferred into the top of the machine.  I recently learned how to operate a scissor lift and lifted it up to the top of the machine.  I was assigned to stand on it with a rake, additives and enzymes.

My office for the nightshift: A scissor-lift with additives

As the grapes were lifted up, I helped unload them into the destemming machine opening.  This machine turns like a corkscrew to move the grapes through the separation process where the grapes are removed from their stems.  The stems are discarded in a separate bin where we compost them and put them back to the vineyard.  The grapes are then crushed by the machine creating a grape juice mixed with skins and seeds.  These contents make their voyage to the tank to begin fermenting.  Just one crate makes about 80 gallons of juice or 400 bottles of bubbling Moscato.

Working this night shift gave me a new perspective of wine, as seen from the top of a scissor lift.  Wine is not simply a bottle or a glass on your table; it is a lengthy, difficult process of growing, harvesting, and then fermenting.   The process requires a large amount of work and I certainly felt it, just from my small position at the end-of-the-line: my body was sore, I was sticky from the juice and I was nearly asleep.  So much credit goes to the troopers in the vineyard who harvested the grapes and those in the tank yard who begin the “magic” process of making wine.  Hard as it was, I wouldn’t trade this experience for a day in the office.

–Cameron Snyder

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