Pressing Needs or “Youth’s Dreams Torn Asunder”

I’m putting the finishing touches together on the press plan for the Home Ranch Cabernet we produce from our smaller estate vineyard. Consisting of one clone, it would seem a pretty straightforward job to just put all the fermentation boxes together and be done with it. One of the really interesting things about this site, though, is that even at only 2.8 acres, it has two dramatic environmental characteristics that greatly affect the outcome of its

Collecting sample from press

Collecting sample from press

wines. An obvious soil break that affects about a third of the block (this piece is not nearly as capable of holding water as the bigger portion) triggers the production of fewer bunches with smaller berries.

And further complicating (or complexing) the site is a stand of Pepper and Eucalyptus trees that separates the vineyard from the Pepper Tree Horse Farm next door. These trees break up the flow of wind from west to east, and in the process, dump the aromatic oils from the trees onto part of the Cabernet Sauvignon closest to the fence line.

As you can imagine, this small piece of ground  contains a fair amount of variability. We decided to pick out the vineyard into three separate areas (each had significantly different sugar numbers, the back third of the site came in at about a degree Brix lower than the front two-thirds) in order to get a better handle on what the site actually is and how it behaves so that the final wine or wines would reflect the place and season more authentically.

Each fermentation box holds about 1.5 tons of fruit. The presses that we use are too large to squeeze a single box so part of our early fermentation plans try to take into account that we are going to have to put certain boxes together (click here to see press in action). Pressing things together limits the ultimate flexibility I will have in the blending process unless I am able to draw enough free-run juice (a subject for another time) from each individual box to create a large-enough effect in the final wine.

As I write this on Friday, October 18, I am thinking about how to insure enough different sub-lots of wine to get to where this year’s fruit will allow me to go while also accounting for the limits of equipment, personnel, and barrels.  A small, nagging factor also present is that I am short of fermentation boxes for the last couple of lots of grapes I need to bring in. Do I potentially shortchange the structural development of wines already in fermentor in order to bring in fruit in a timely fashion? or do I count the birds in hand as more important than the ones waiting, incipiently, out in the vineyard? These are the kinds of decisions that keep me up at night. As I’ve written here before…you only get the one chance to pull the trigger on one of the most important decisions in the wine year.

Infinite possibility is one of youth’s things that gets put away. I get it. But it is damn hard, when I see so many potential roads to greatness in a specific wine from a potentially spectacular vintage, to allow adulthood’s realities to have a hand in making the ultimate call.

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