This time of year is always a busy one at City Winery. Summer is over, and the crowds return to the city, the holidays are just around the corner and with thema flurry of events, and, most importantly, it’s harvest time. This past Sunday we received our third shipment of grapes, about 6 ½ tons of Syrah and Viognier grapes from Alder Springs Vineyards in Mendocino, California. The grapes were picked in the middle of the night when the grapes are at their coldest, driven in refrigerated trucks by two drivers (so the truck never stops) and arrived at our back doorstep here in Manhattan. The grapes we’re greeted by a crew of winery staff, loaded onto a grape elevator, called a “giraffe,” and dropped by the cluster into a destemmer. From there they traveled onto a sorting table to be examined by at least six pairs of hands and cleared of any “MOG” – Material Other than Grapes – stems, leaves, or the errant bad grape. Once the winemakers were sure the grapes were ready, they were dropped onto another giraffe and into the fermenting tanks, where they began the maceration process. With this batch of grapes the winemakers are using a classic technique that most likely originated in the Northern Rhone region of France. They combined 90% Syrah with 10% Viognier– the former being red grapes and the latter being white. It may seem strange to combine red and white grapes, unless you’re making a “blush” wine, but the winemakers had a very particular goal in mind. Syrah grapes themselves are very thick skinned and dark red, creating a big, masculine and tannic wine. By adding Viognier the winemakers are able to create a more mellow wine with lower tannin, and some floral, feminine notes. In the end, we will arrive at a deep red wine full of complexity, but without the possible jarring aspects of a Syrah macerated and fermented on it’s own. These grapes will spend about four days soaking and becoming juice before fermenting for two to four weeks, followed by aging, which can take anywhere from seven to eighteen months. In the meantime, as we wait for this year’s grapes to become wine, we are reveling in current triumphs. City Winery was most recently recognized for its 2012 Reserve Chardonnay from Scopus Vineyards in Sonoma, California. The Beverage Testing Institute awarded a Gold Medal and 93 points to our Chardonnay, which they described as “a fantastically flavorful chardonnay with great structure for the table.” As harvest comes and goes and new grapes begin their journey, it is always a proud moment to know that once they reach the glass our City Winery wines will prove that all this hard work does not go unrewarded!
Close to one-quarter of our entire fall harvest arrived last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a long day for us, but it was also filled with high expectations. We were not disappointed. The grapes arrived in top condition ready to fill our hungry tanks. In the Pinot Noir department, we received grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Bacigalupi vineyards in the Russian River. Petite Syrah and Zinfandel arrived from Lodi as well.
Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton delivered pallet after pallet of grapes to the loading dock where Sikou Nakate and his trusty pallet jack were waiting to lift and pull each one-ton stack to the loading station. In the case of the Petite Syrah, whose clusters tend to run somewhat large compared to other varieties, the stems had to be snipped into smaller pieces so that they would go through the destemmer properly. Working in shifts, the sorting table was kept busy all day long, with only short interruptions in order to move from one tank to the next. Purple hands and sticky fingers were in abundance.
With our second crush of the season now finished, three-quarters of our fermenters are already full. It is now up to the hard-working yeast cells to transform all that sugary must into wine. We tend to them day and night making sure they complete their important task on schedule. This means regular pump overs, punch downs and temperature regulation. Our lab technicians are busy monitoring the progress and if all goes well, we will start to press and barrel down during the next two weeks. As you can see, timing will be very important so that tanks are available for more crop as it comes in. We are excited about breaking in our new press that will make this process more manageable. Stay tuned for updates.
Last Saturday we had one of our largest crushes ever — 20 tons of grapes! Thanks to our dedicated members, staff and friends, it was processed in record time without a hitch. In fact, they managed to sort the grapes with such precision and care that David’s high standards of winemaking were held in the highest regard. In the time lapse video below, you will see most of the day’s effort compressed into two and a half minutes.
This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.
This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.