Harvest has certainly been slow to arrive this year but soon the grapes will show up on the crush pad and begin their transformative journey. Part of what makes Deerfield wine so good is that we only use ingredients of the highest quality. So the first step is to sort the fruit - only perfectly ripe grapes make the cut. By the time the grapes arrive on the crush pad they have already been sorted once. In the vineyard, grapes that are fully ripe are the only ones that make it in the basket. But picking is huge job and workers, who often get paid per picking basket, don't always operate with as much scrutiny as we would like. For that reason once the grapes reach the winery they are sorted two more times by our crew.
The fruit is dumped from the half-ton bins that the grapes arrive in into a hopper which dumps them onto a conveyer belt and spreads the grapes out. At this point the grapes are still attached to their stems so we call this portion bunch sorting. We remove any leaves and clusters that are underripe or raisined. Sorters keep a constant vigil for any bunches that have any sign of mold or mildew. As the endless sea of grapes drift past, your eyes dart rapidly from bunch to bunch. Sometimes the signs of under ripeness are barely perceivable: The skins are a slightly different shade of red. Sometimes the only way to be sure is to taste them.
By the time the bunches of grapes reach the end of the sorting table and drop into the destemmer, only fully ripe grapes remain. The destemmer is a fairly simple machine. Paddles spin one direction and a cylinder with holes for the berries to fall through spins the other way. It's effectiveness varies, usually by the varietal. Zinfandel with its thick stems, for example, sometimes comes through the destemmer with no sign of any green at all. Just beautiful black pearls come out the other end. On the other hand Merlot's delicate stems often get chopped up and ejected along with the grapes.
The grapes then fall from the destemmer onto a "shaking table" which just a table with a grate that oscillates. It does an exemplary job of catching stems leaves and "shot berries" (tiny green grapes which were never pollinated). The shaking table was the bane of last harvest because it made a terrible racket. It was so loud that you couldn't hear the music that your headphones were playing. Halfway through harvest, Robert overheard a cellar rat grumbling about it and 30 minutes later, using only a wrench, silenced the machine.
The shaking table dumps the grapes onto a final sorting table. At this point the goal is to remove the MOG - industry slang for "matter/material other than grapes". If the yeast doesn't encounter any toxins during fermentation, the yeast will not need to produce histamines to protect themselves. Histamines are what cause red wine headaches. That is what we mean by clean wine and why Deerfield triple sorts our fruit, which is definitely not the industry standard. Mostly the focus is to remove anything green. The tiny stems that make it through the destemmer are often referred to as "jacks" because they look like jacks from the popular children's game of the same name. At the end of this sorting table all that remains is perfect, delicious grapes. We're anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first grapes! Harvest continues next week on DeerfieldCellarRat.com.