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Pavle Prepares to Harvest the Grapes and Reveals the Blend

Can you guess what the blend is?
Can you guess what the blend is?

In this occasional series, Pavle Milic will spill about his current mission to learn how wine is made -- literally from the Southern Arizona ground up. Today: preparing for the harvest.

See also: Pavle Milic's Quest to Make Wine: A Quixotic Exploit? See also: Pavle Prunes the Vines -- and Keeps an Eye out for Rattlesnakes

For the past two months I have been going down to the Dos Cabezas winery on an average of every other week. On one occasion, I walked into the winery and Todd Bostock, who runs the place, wasn't there. Patsy Cline's "Crazy" was playing on the speakers. I thought to myself: "Wow, this is nice and relaxing and romantic all at the same time."

This ethereal moment was brought to a screeching halt by Metallica's "Master of Puppets" right after; I must admit it made fell right at home. While the vines were growing and the grapes maturing, Todd has also been busy at the winery.

At the Winery Todd has been moving wine from barrel to tank to separate the sediment from the wine. One of the tasks that I was given was to wash the barrels. The barrels are placed over a contraption that has a sprinkler-like faucet. The barrel sits on metal holders and the spigot goes in the bunghole (the small circular opening of a barrel). The spigot remains stationary but this apparatus lets you swivel the barrel. Once you turn on the water, this thick debris, red plaster or sediment begins to come out. You spin the barrel in both directions until the water that comes out is clear.

After this, further sanitation is required if the barrels are going to be used again . The barrels are treated with Proxyclean and an acid wash, made of citric acid and water. If the barrels are going to be stored, then they are dried and filled with sulphur gas.

Barrel Washer
Barrel Washer

Mainly, I tried to make myself available for whatever Todd needs. We focused on preparing tanks for wine. Again, sanitation is paramount. Todd is very careful to ensure that these vessels are properly sanitized. We also talked about the importance of checking every connection before the pump gets turned on to transport the wine from barrel to tank. "Always check every single connection, Pavle, make sure you double check everything always before you turn on the pump."

 

JR topping off barrels.
JR topping off barrels.

Another task is topping off wine barrels. Ullage begins -- that's the process of evaporation that creates a space between the wine and the opening or top of the barrel. Although a little oxygen is beneficial to the aging process, you want to keep that barrel full. Too much oxygen can lead to oxidation, which leads to other wine faults. So the task is to go take off the bung and add topping off wine.

Hail damaged Grape
Hail damaged Grape

At the Vineyard Meanwhile at the vineyard, Todd and his assistant Juan keep a close eye on the development of the grapes. Things start to get exciting when Veraison starts (the ripening grapes begin to soften and begin to change color from green to red). Todd goes to the vineyard to check on the progress of the vines. If there are too many clusters together, he decides that it may be best to drop a few clusters to minimize the possibility of rot, which is caused by frequent rain and not enough dry time in between. Once you get a few clusters with rot, other clusters may begin to be contaminated by bugs.

He also gathers a few leaf samples that are sent to a lab to analyze the state of the vine, and whether there are any nutritional deficiencies. Todd takes me around the vineyard blocks to show me grapes damaged by hail. The grape gets a puncture that turns into an opening in the shape of a smiley face that leaves it susceptible to insects and decay. He also shows me an example of a grape cluster that has rot, seen below.

A grape cluster affected by Rot.
A grape cluster affected by Rot.
Homework. A world of Yeast.
Homework. A world of Yeast.

The Blend During all of this, Todd and I have been talking about what kind of wine we're going to make. I tell him that I have a propensity to drink wines that are lighter in style. I am a self-diagnosed Pinotphile, but Pinot Noir does not do well in this inclement high desert weather that can be both too hot and too cold.

I'll cut to the chase and tell you that we decided on making a blend that is composed of 50% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah, and 25% Primitivo.

We also talked about what kind of barrels to use: New, Neutral, American, Hungarian, French. All of these impart different attributes.

We also discussed different types of yeasts to use. For the Tempranillo we can use the CSM, ICV D21 or the T73 strain. They all interact differently with the grape juice, thus affecting the final product. See the illustration below.

T73 Yeast Strain: good in hot climate.
T73 Yeast Strain: good in hot climate.

Harvest is Here This week I'm heading down to Willcox. The Primitivo for our blend will be ready in just a few days. For the next couple of months things will get very busy for Todd and his wife Kelly at the winery. In the next post I will tell you how the pick went.

In the interim I'll leave you with a picture of Todd and Griffin (Assistant Winemaker, the Bostocks' son)

"Hey Griffin, do you think it will rain tomorrow?" Todd asks.

"Yeah" Griffin says very matter of fact.

"What about the grapes Griffin, are they ready? and Griffin says "Uhm, Yeah."

Todd and his son Griffin deciding when to harvest the grapes.
Todd and his son Griffin deciding when to harvest the grapes.
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