By Sara Schneider Sunset wine editor
When you pick grapes, it turns out, your day has just begun. You have to do something with them. When Team Wine came down off Fat Buck Ridge with our Syrah (and 20 gallons of Chardonnay juice we snagged from Michael Martella at Fogarty), we met our now-indispensable advisor, Dan Brenzel, and his old Italian, hand-crank crusher-destemmer, back at Sunset. Lug by lug we dumped our Syrah into the hopper, cranked the handle, worried stuck clusters through with a pole, caught the grapes dropping out the bottom in plastic bins, tried to keep the stems spraying out the end under control, and generally turned the back parking lot into a riotous, sticky mess. In the end—okay, after opening a few bottles of wine from my office (for inspiration)—we took off our shoes and stomped on the last couple of lots that we’d brought down from the vineyard in trash cans, because we didn’t have quite enough lugs. What all the stomping legends don’t tell you is that you have to somehow pull out all those stems after romping in the grapes. (We just ran the juicy mass through the crusher-destemmer—defeating the purpose of the stomping, of course, but it was worth it for entertainment value alone.)
The must (crushed grapes—skins, seeds, pulp, juice, and all) went into a 55-gallon food-grade plastic drum, plus a clean trash can for the overflow. We added some sulfur dioxide, to keep any lurking bacteria from growing, covered the drums with cheesecloth to keep the fruit flies at bay, and left our Syrah to cold soak to extract as much color and flavor from the skins as possible before getting our fermentation going. Michael soaks his a whopping five days, but he has controlled conditions … Decisions, decisions.