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Entries in sanitation (3)

The Cleanest Rat

Cleanliness is definitely the name of the game. In preparation for the harvet every single piece of equipment large and small has to be thoroughly sterilized. That means washing every square inch of everything not bolted down in the winery not just once, but three times (and in some cases four). For the large pieces of machinery like the press and the sorting table I first pressure wash the contraption, then I take a scrub brush and go over every nook and cranny with "proxy", which is the non-toxic industrial cleaning agent that is standard to the industry, and then I go over everything again but this time using citric acid in order to neutralize the proxy. Then I finish it off with another rinse with water. Phew. Some of the equipment we use like the pumps must be cleaned several times a day - every time they are used for a different wine.

This week we cleaned all of the machinery used during the harvest. That includes: The de-stemmer, which de-stems; The press, which squishes the grapes; The mass pump, which bursts grapes thats skin is too tough to pop naturally during fermentation (like Cabernet); The dumper, which dumps grapes on to the sorting table; The sorting table, which is a big conveyor belt; The shaker, which separates unripe grapes.

Also we tested each machine to make sure that they are in proper working order so that we can fix them before cunch time. Can you imagine how disastrous it would be if you have 100 tons of grapes sitting on the crush pad, melting in the sun, and try to turn on the press and nothing happens? That's what happened today. Not the whole grape fiasco (harvest isn't for another month at least) but when we tried to start the press, nothing happened. In fact, half of the machinery didn't work. That's because it's only used for a short period during the year and all of the equipment sits idle. So we called Robert and he came and got three out of four of them back up and running, including the press! The highlight of my day was helping my uncle repair the motor. All that it needed was for the parts to be banged apart that had been rusted together. And it reinforced a lesson I learned quite a while ago: A good winemaker is a good mechanic. And a good electrician... And a good chemist... And a good carpenter... And a good botanist... A good winemaker has to be a jack-of-all-trades. So I guess I'll have to pick up the skills as I go. Hey, I'm working on the carpentry. I've almost finished my deck. Tomorrow we're going to filter a Syrah Cuvee. More to come...

The Rat And The Bee

On Friday, after Robert and I got the big grape press working again, it was time for it to be scrubbed. So knowing what the job ahead of me entailed, I changed out of my work clothes and put on a pair of swim trunks. Armed with my trusty pressure washer, I hopped inside the stainless steel barrel. Moments later I was soaking wet and covered in nine months worth of grime. That was when I made a startling discovery: My co-worker's valiant efforts to dislodge a hornets' nest earlier in the week had failed and I was now trapped in a metal tube with a hive of insects that were particularly displeased to have their home invaded for the second time in one week. Quickly, I made a bold decision. I decided to shamelessly abandon my post with haste and regroup. I exited the press for fear of the stingers and went off in search of a weapon to take care of the yellow jackets once and for all. Less than a minute later I returned to the press armed with a bright yellow can of bug spray. Before the poor creatures knew what was happening they were already in their death throes. I carefully disposed of the nest and continued with my not-so-delicate task of the press. Fifteen very wet minutes went by and, as I was doing my best to remove an entrenched bit of squished grapes, a lone bee, whom I presume had been off foraging at the time of the attack, returned and found his home had disappeared. I can imagine that he saw the intruder (me) and the absence of his nest and put two and two together. And so a protracted battle ensued. The bee would hover menacingly as I would yank the nozzle of my pressure washer in his direction, only to zoom off just as I pulled the trigger. The close quarters of the tank made the formidable water gun unwieldy however, and it was with great difficulty that I finally caught my nemesis in my sights and blasted him from the air with a powerful jet of water. Scanning the horizon, I saw no sign of the bee. But little did I know that he was lying in wait. I was unable to be sure that I had won but after several minutes I went back to my chore. I am sure that he was waiting for me to lower my guard because just as I became confident that I had defeated my foe, he seized that moment to strike again. He ambushed me at the bottom of the press, buzzing furious circles around my head. And so to my chagrin, I retreated. Maybe, I thought, I will clean the outside of the press first. The workday ended before I finished washing the outside. I am going to continue the task on Wednesday. Until then, I'm quite certain that my adversary is biding his time, buzzing a self-satisfied buzz.

Tomorrow: On The Assembly Line In The Bottling Truck.

Second Protocol

Thank you for indulging me last week in my aside - I hope I conveyed the feeling of winter here at the winery. I'll return now to my recap of the 2009 harvest.

Where we last left off the heavy and early fall rain had greatly complicated things, creating mold in the vineyard, and we were slowing down the sorting table to a crawl in a valiant effort to remove the affected fruit. But the sorting table wasn't the only front at which we were to battle the gray-green scourge. We would have to change our entire method of operation to combat our foe...

And so our winemaker put into effect a Second Protocol with which we were to handle all of the wines we were crafting. No matter how discerning we were at the sorting table it is impossible to completely remove all the mold as some of the pesky microbes aren't even visible to the naked eye. The wines would be later treated to remove all trace of the fungi but in the interim it was imperative that the clean wines we had fermenting already not be contaminated. During fermentation it is crucial not use equipment on different lots without sanitizing it in between, in order to prevent cross-contaminating the lots with different yeast strains. It only takes one little yeast cell to create an entire colony.  But there are many stages during production where it is not necessary to totally sterilize everything between working with different wines. After the Second Protocol was instituted those days were long gone. Everything had to sprayed with ozone between every time ANY piece of equipment touched a grape or juice. Ozone is used industrially as a disinfectant. It's useful because Deerfield has an ozone generator which creates it from the ambient air so you have an unlimited supply. Ozone is an O3 molecule whereas oxygen is O2. It's amazing how that one extra oxygen atom changes it from life giving to lethal. Ozone has incredible oxidizing power and as it decays back to the stable oxygen configuration is releases free radicals that can break the carbon bonds of organic molecules making it a deadly enemy of the unwanted spores invisibly infesting our hoses and pumps. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But it's a double edged sword because since ozone is such a terrific oxidizing agent it must not come in contact with the wine either. So a spray with ozone and a thorough rinse before any work is done is prescribed but not expedient. I think I've mentioned before how much easier the process can be if you just cut a few corners. To follow the protocol to a T required dedication, patience and imagination: You have to imagine how much better the wine will taste if you take the time to do it right. And at Deerfield we do it right. Every time.

Fortunately, this all happened as the work at the winery was beginning to reach its zenith as the last of the grapes came in. As sorting stopped the attention of the crew could be shifted to the fermenting wines and our time was freed up a great deal. Next time I'll talk about the winding down of harvest and putting the wines to sleep so they can mature. Salut!