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Winemaker's Journal —Crush begins

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My first small load of grapes came in Tuesday evening from Gamache Vineyards just north of Pasco. Mike Monaco brought up a little over a ton of beautiful Merlot for his commercial wines. I'm buying less than 100 pounds of that and another small dab of Cabernet Sauvignon later. I just want to make about five gallons of each this year to add to wines I'll make from my own Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

What fun to get the winemaking season started. I drove up to Leavenworth to pick up the grapes, enjoyed a glass of Mike's fine Cabernet, and then returned home to crush the grapes and remove stems by hand. I was out in the yard with a headlamp until after 9 p.m., squeezing away and pulling out those stems that can produce too much tannin and green flavors. I use my old apple press to break the berries off the stems, but most of the crushing is done with my hands. This is definitely small batch winemaking.

The crushed fruit went into a 10-gallon fermentation bucket. I added a little potassium metabisulfate as a sterilant to kill any native yeasts that came in with the grapes from the vineyard. Those yeasts will turn grapes into wine on their own, but you never know what you might come up with. Instead, most winemakers kill the native yeasts off and then add a lab-produced yeast. I'll add that in a day or so and then keep the crush at about 70 degrees so it will ferment evenly. It takes about 10 days for the yeast to convert the sugar in the grapes to alcohol.

By then, I should have other fermentations started. The white wine grapes in my vineyard — Chardonnay and Pinot Gris — should be ready to pick by this weekend. Possibly the Lemberger as well. The Cabernet Franc and the purchased Cabernet Sauvignon should be ready in a week or two. The Sangiovese always ripens much later, or not fully if a vine killing frost comes first.

There's a nice crop of grapes this year all over the state thanks to a hot, lingering summer. Amateur and commercial winemakers will be very busy for the next month or so.