Harvest is in full swing here at Burnt Bridge. Grapes are being picked from the vineyards that we work closely with throughout the year. From there they are driven the 3-5 hours back to Burnt Bridge where club members help sort and crush the fresh grapes. It can get a little tight in the back where rows of bins and stacks of barrels take up the majority of the cellar.
White wine grapes immediately move from the destemmer to the press where the skins are pressed off and the free run juice travels to our stainless steel tank to start fermentation. However, for red wine grapes that’s where the bins in the cellars come in. Once destemmed by the crusher, Ben begins the fermentation process. During this time the added yeast eats the sugar in the grapes. The grapes are carefully watched and punched down daily to ensure skin contact to enhance the deep red color we all know and love in our big bold reds. Once the sugar levels are down to 0 (7-10 days), the grapes are ready to be pressed off of the skins and transferred to the tank. From there Ben barrels down where fermentation continues to occur and carefully watches the barrels, sugar levels, acid levels, etc, in addition to many other monitoring tasks and additives throughout the aging process.
It’s a miracle we are able to accomplish all of this in the small cellar space. When asked what the hardest part about harvest was Ben answered: “It's really just a logistics problem at some point. Especially for those of us who are 3-4 hours away from the vineyards. The coordination to get the fruit at the right time is a bit of a matrix.” And it is a matrix! Ben is constantly moving bins and barrels to fit in the space and to maximize more space for the new bins that arrive. You never know what the cellar will look like in the back from day to day.
Wondering about the 2019 vintage? Curious about how previous years looked?
I asked Ben: How do you know when it’s a good vintage?: “You get a good idea during harvest, then a better idea during fermentation. Then a better idea after about a year in the barrel and then a better idea a year later. Then at bottling, that's a pretty good indicator. And then release and each year that follows, you learn a little more.” You learn it’s a good vintage after everything is said and done. The risk and curiosity is always there. Weather, of course, plays a part in the quality of the vintage, but the steps taken by the winemaker to make it and work with the sugar and acid levels is a major component to how the wine will taste.
There are many steps to making wine, but it’s amazing to see the final product. Ben loves making wine because he can create those “aha” moments when they fall in love with wine or drink a delicious wine paired with a beautiful meal. The reward is endless. If you’re thinking about getting into winemaking or want to make a batch in your basement, here’s what Ben says, “It's all about the palate. At the end of the day, the most important asset you have is your ability to taste. It's also all about the pallet jack. Learn how to lift heavy objects. And learn how to drive a forklift. And learn to love wet feet and clothes. And be good at math and science. Live and die with the details and also learn how to go with the flow. That's all there is to it!”