Friday, October 30, 2009

Lots of Cleaning!

Brad Post:

Behind the tasting room door is another world most visitors never see – the wine cellar. There is a flurry of activity in a wine cellar and most of it is preceded and followed by cleaning. Lots of cleaning! Here is a quick example from just the other day:

For the past several weeks, in a 1,000 gallon stainless steel tank, our last batch of wine (fresh Merlot grapes transported via refrigerated semi-truck from California) has been slowly fermenting. Yesterday morning I performed a pump over operation on this wine.

Pumping over is a process where the ferment (juice/wine and grape skins) are suctioned from the bottom of the tank through a hose connected to a pump and sprayed “over” the top of the must (the floating grape skins on the surface) – while perched precariously atop an 8 foot ladder. This important process, something most winery visitors don’t see frequently, is needed to extract all the wine goodness (e.g., color, flavor, tannins, etc.) and helps prevent bad bacteria from taking over.

For cellar rats, a term of endearment for those who work in the cellar, this is a thrice daily (at least) activity during the early stages of fermentation and a task many would call “work”. To me at least, performing a pump over or doing the traditional punch down (same function as the pump over but requires the use of a hand tool where one plunges the must below the surface) is almost a meditative endeavor. I punch down, pull back, submerge the must, in a Zen-like state or trance trying not to be overcome by the oxygen-depleted environment. You see, during fermentation a tremendous amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is released and if a cellar rat (figuratively and literally) breathes in too much can die or lose consciousness. A dead body in a vat of wine, despite what you may have heard, doesn’t add complexity to any bottle of wine!

After carefully cleaning the hoses, pumps, and thousand-gallon tank there were countless other tasks that needed attention. For the rest of the day I conducted a panel of wine laboratory tests, including pH, TA (acidity) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). And of course there was plenty of cleaning! Always cleaning, lots of cleaning!

Brad is a contributing writer to Make Mine Wine Magazine and can be found on Facebook at the Eastern Iowa Wine Club (Fan/Group) pages.


  1. i recall hearing one wine geek explain that the french technique of crushing stems and leaves along with the grapes added complexity. humm. my thought was that it was just plain laziness by the french which rendered their reds un-drinkable for years.

    had never thought about the rat. god knows what livestock goes into french wine!

  2. Have you considered swapping out your wine punch-down with the pneumatage process instead?

    It's by far the the best way to automate your cap management in single or multiple tanks and also efficiently aerate you juice during fermentation to eliminate the formation of hydrogen sulfide and mercapatans