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Becoming a Vintner: My 1st Harvest

Becoming a Vintner: My 1st Harvest

Okay, my hands have stopped shaking, I’ve (sort of) caught up on sleep, and every time I shut my eyes I DON’T see grapes. Let’s talk about my harvest.

Originally, I’d planned to make it happen on a Saturday. Everything was set. My pickers (my girlfriend and dad) were lined up and ready. I had my buckets for the must. I had boxes. I was set… then the weather came in and called everything off. Sh*t.

This was a big problem because, as I’ve said before, wine isn’t my full time job. My full time job i can sometimes be quite chaotic and unplanned. This meant having to take time when I could to pick everything. It meant picking in the evening. *Sigh*.

So, on the last Wednesday in September I go to inspect the vineyard. The rondo is all ready. Damn it! I call up my dad, who’s got everything on standby. I text my girlfriend, who’s having her dinner… just me and dad for now then! Grapes wait for no man!

Now here is where I have to confess something. As. this is my first year, I have limited time and resources… I’
m only picking my Rondo. Yes, this is a total and utter waste of other grapes. Yes, I could have thrown everything together into one massive vat (I should have spoken to that expert BEFORE harvesting) but I haven’t. I need to learn at my pace and, sadly this year, that means leaving some solders behind. Next year I’ll be better, more prepared, more organised. But for now, red wine will be my poison.

We get everything home from the vineyard by about 8pm. We get fish and chips because neither my dad or me are in the mood for cooking. So, by 9pm, we start de-stemming. Now this is another bone of contention in some peoples eyes. We took every grape off its stem and put them in the bucket to be crushed. This is by hand don’t forget. Some people have told me I should have left everything on and just crushed it all together. Can that really be the case? Little bits of wood in my wine must? I don’t know, but my answer was to pick every grape off the stem until midnight, and carry on the next day.

I had to leave some of the picked grapes in the bucket. It’s not ideal and has probably ruined one batch, but the timings just didn’t work out at all this year. The next day I had time off in the afternoon. SO raced straight home and my dad, my mum and I were de-stemming until 10pm, a much more reasonable time!

I cannot thank my parents enough. Without them I’m pretty sure I’d still be putting grapes in buckets. They were my rocks and are utter hero’s in my eyes.

Grapes in, I crushed them down with my hands. Everyone asks if I’d do it with my feet. I do see why now, they’re bloody difficult to crush! A dash of sulphites in both buckets and into the cold storage aka my garage, they went.

After that, I went to Chilford Hall vineyard to see how it was really done. They pick by hand but have a machine that sorts the grapes out. I’ve never been more jealous of anything in my entire life. It was there where the tour guide said I could throw all my grape types in together to make a nice rosé. Two days too late, but good to know for next year! If you’re ever in Cambridgeshire check out Chilford Hall, it’s an amazing place and the wine is to die for!

The following Monday, in goes the yeast. Batch 1 and Batch 2, as they’re affectionately know, are looking pretty different. 2 looks much better, with 1 looking a bit sorry for itself. But, this is my first time so something is bound to fail! In goes the yeast… and then I began to wait.

Today, I’ve put in the yeast feed. Batch 2 looked a lot more fermented than 1 when we put it in, but I’m hoping this feed will give 1 back a bit of energy. If not, I call it natural wine and be done with it.

I haven’t quite reached the constant bubbling sound you hear in fermentation. I think my buckets aren’t the best quality, and I have to force the carbon dioxide out every so often. I think it’s to do with there not being enough pressure on the sides to make the CO2 bubble out. When I push down the plastic lid it bubbles like there’s no tomorrow!

So that’s it so far. We’re slowly getting there. All I need to do now is dive everything out and let it go into its second fermentation. Wish me luck!