You may imagine walking through the vineyards in the early morning light, picking a plump grape off a bunch , looking at its colour, admiring its bloom, pinching it slightly to see how easily the pulp emerges from the skin. The juice crisp and clean to taste and the pip slightly tannic as you bite down on it. The cool atmosphere of the barrel cellar with that earthy wooded smell as you taste a voluptuous shiraz that has been maturing for the last 3 years. The neat promenade of tanks, clean and lined up, awaiting harvest. Yes this may be what you imagine everyday wine making is like, quiet and romanticized.
You may have a more clinical idea, silver labs and weighing boats, refractometers, thermometers and pH meters all in the correct position awaiting calculation. Beakers lined up neatly, reeking of a food safe disinfectant. The store room, tool room and Chemical storage room all fill and perfectly organized, simply awaiting use. All the pipes not in use, simply out of sight until needed. Yes a perfectly sterile environment that never smells of anything but disinfectant and the slight reduction coming of a miss behaving tank. This may be your idea of a working cellar more a laboratory than a cellar.
Well even though some of these elements may appear in the everyday habits of a winemaker, this is not the only part to it. No one seems to talk about the scrub work that needs to be done every day so that you can sit on your easy chair and enjoy that lovely Chardonnay.
Firstly winemakers cannot sleep in, the early mornings are the best time to taste the grapes and take accurate samples. The sample grapes need to be randomly selected and collected which requires a lot of walking, don’t think you can just take 10 bunches from one vine! Those grapes then need to be crushed, the juice settled and then tested for acid, sugar and pH. The juice should also be tasted to see aroma expression. These results all have to be recorded, nothing can be forgotten or left out. This process is repeated twice a week for 4 weeks before the grapes come in.
Speaking of the grapes coming in, all machinery that comes into contact with the grapes must be washed and disinfected, all the nuts and bolts need to be greased with food grade grease, the wires need to be checked and the mechanism must be running smoothly.
The whole cellar should be cleaned (sustainable farming), from top to bottom to ensure no weird flora or yeast are hanging around to contaminate the grapes coming in. Scrubbed from the ceiling to the floor – including the outsides of the tanks and barrels.
The barrels needed for the new vintage need to be emptied into tank, that wine then needs to be filtered and bottled which is an ordeal. The Barrels then need to be checked, marked, rinsed and transported to a facility where they burn sulphur inside the barrel to sterilize it. All transport of barrels needs to be done with a forklift because even an empty barrel is pretty heavy. The barrel cellar then needs to be rearranged with the wines still maturing moved to the back with the new barrels in front.
The pipes that are so neatly tucked away need to be washed thoroughly inside using a foam ball and a closed system of water. Even though the pipes are hollow, they are really heavy! A team of 3 is needed to move a 20m long pipe.
All aerators and pressure releasers need to be cleaned out and checked for rust. Any equipment that comes into contact with the grapes, juice or wine should be sterile!
The chemical store that’s so neat and accessible? A stock take needs to be done and every batch number and expiry date has to be checked and new products ordered and packed. The tool store needs to be cleaned out, broken things thrown away, miscellaneous clutter disposed of and replacements bought.
This described a mere two days of the build up to harvest, its brutal and hectic and invigorating. When you step into a cellar again, remember all the nitty gritty things that need to be done before the grapes can be bought in or the wine can be made. There are the romantic parts, the scientific parts, and the other work that just has to be done. It all intertwines into this beautiful tapestry that is the art of winemaking. Being actively involved in this industry means you have to do each part, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.