It was dark, but thankfully the rain had stopped. Over a dozen hobby winemakers were waiting in the cold for the grapes. This year, it was particularly late because of a shortage of pickers, and we were several hours behind schedule.
Around 8pm, the truck rolled into the processing site. We cheered! Let the crush begin.
The gang got to work immediately, trying to make up for lost time. We unloaded the grapes and carefully allocated about 4,000 lbs of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc into 50-lb totes. Organizing the allotment of grapes was challenging as lighting was inadequate and patience ran thin.
Then we ran into our first glitch - 150 lbs of Cab Sauv were missing.
|Stephanie shoveling grapes|
Chaos ensued. Not being able to account for the missing Cab Sauv, we decided that we could make up for the difference if we each gave up 4% of our grapes. Crisis averted. No one was going home without grapes.
An hour later, 100 lbs of grapes were found in a dark corner. A few of us tasted the grapes - definitely Cab Franc. How? Too tired to solve the mystery, we decided to re-distribute the grapes to those who were previously "taxed" 4% of the Cab Sauv. All's well that ends well.
Next, the second glitch at around 10pm - power outage.
With both crusher-destemmers running simultaneously, we must have tripped the circuit. We were crushing at a storage facility and had no access to the circuit breaker during these late hours. Our options were not looking good, and they probably included fighting raccoons over the grapes.
Thankfully, one of the winemakers lived close enough and was able to drag out his generator. Within an hour, we were back in business, crushing and de-stemming with all our might. The team remained in good spirits and were grateful that we were able to overcome each challenge. By the time we were done with the crush and clean-up, it was close to midnight.
Now, let me introduce you to our little co-op: The Mighty Midnight Crushers
We started planning in February. Four new hobby winemakers decided to join me to make our 2017 vintage. With only one vintage under my belt, I am hardly experienced. But thankfully, we have resources in the form of books, classes, more experienced winemakers, and access to really good grapes in Washington. More importantly, we are a group with the best attitude and eagerness to work together.
|Grapes on staked vines|
A month later, we placed an order for Red Mountain Cab Sauv from Artz Vineyards.
The first vintage I made was Yakima Valley Syrah, a forgiving varietal that is lovely even without oak. The Syrah was transformed with minimal intervention into a tasty fruit-forward wine within a year.
Cab Sauv however is a very different variety. Known for its small berry size and thick skin, Cab Sauv is favored for its tannins, which will need to be softened with oak. So I bought the smallest new French oak barrel I could find.
By end of August, the vineyards started sending out reports on the grapes. Forecasted harvest dates for different grape varieties were provided with varying degrees of accuracy, starting with white grapes followed by black and finishing with Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. The forecasted date for our Cab Sauv then was September 21.
The following month, the vineyards started running sugar (Brix) and acidity (pH and TA) tests on grape samples to determine ripeness. Still it was impossible to predict and plan our lives around the harvest date. September came and left, and Mother Nature continued to keep us guessing.
Our harvest date was finally set on Oct 17. We had less than a week to get ready. Two of our Mighty Midnight Crushers, Frank and Cindie, volunteered to drive to the Red Mountain AVA to collect our grapes as well as those ordered by other hobby winemakers.
|Red Mountain AVA|
How long the harvest may take typically depends on the weather and the availability of the pickers. Although the weather was lovely, there was a shortage of migrant workers this year. The vineyards owner herself joined her four workers to pick about 4,000 lbs of grapes that day.
It was late in the afternoon when the grapes were finally loaded onto the truck. Frank and Cindie had already been at the vineyards since that morning. They were glad to be on their way back to Western Washington. It was getting dark, and the winds were picking up. With a heavy load behind them, the drive navigating through the pass would take over three hours. They knew that they would be welcomed by over a dozen grateful winemakers waiting for the grapes in the cold. It would be dark, but hopefully the rain would have stopped.