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Okanagancook

2015 Grape Harvest in the Okanagan, B.C., Canada

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Hope this is the right forum for this.

We have 200 vines of Merlot and Pinot Gris from which we make our wine each year.  This year we are about five weeks ahead of what is the normal harvest date.  The weather has been unbelievable and the wine produced this year should be one of the best since 2009.  

I thought I would document our process of picking and processing the grapes to fermentation vessels.  Unfortunately my camera setting got changed half way through and not all my intended pictures came out.  Here goes:

 

1.  Take the bird nets off the vines.  

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2.  Pick into a wheel burrow

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3.  De-stem the grapes.  There are all kinds of critters trying to escape.  You can see several spiders making a run for it.  The Merlot juice went into the primary fermenting vessel and the Pinot Gris gets pressed right away.

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4.  The Bladder press.  Water is fed into the black bladder and we use a small amount of pressure to press out the juice.   The harder you press, the more tannins will be in the must.

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5.  The press is emptied of the skins.

6.  The grape juice is in the fermentation vessel.  Some sulfur is added to prevent wild yeast from growing and then we add our selected yeast.

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Very cool.

 

Looking forward to more of this.

 

If only there was taste-o-puter! ;)

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Very interesting! I'll be looking forward to more, also. Can you tell us more about why the sulfur discourages the wild yeast but not your desired (added) yeast strain?

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Good question Smithy.  The crushed grapes have wild yeasts and bacteria so we add a small amount of metabisulfite to kill off these organisms.  Sulphur dioxide is released by the metabisulfite into the juice and prevents oxidation and kills the unwanted organisms.  The juice is covered and we let it sit for a day so this process can be completed.  Then we add our selected wine yeast.  Most of the sulphur will have been used.  The yeasts can tolerate a certain level of sulfur and in fact you want to maintain this small level to keep unwanted organisms at bay.  We have to test the juice to ensure those sulfur levels are where we want them.  These wine yeasts can also tolerate a maximum level of alcohol as well, about 15%.  This is why we test the sugar levels in the grapes on the vine to ensure they don't get too high.  If they are too high then you'll end up with a sweet wine because the yeast can't convert all that sugar into alcohol.

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Awesome!

 

Those grapes are a thing of beauty.  

 

Roughly how many bottles will you get this year?  What do you do with the grape "leavings"?  Compost?

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Thank you for sharing this.  I look forward to hearing more.  

How long have you been growing grapes and making your own wines?  Do you ever mix with purchased grapes or juice?  Is this all done on your property?  Do you own all this equipment or do you share with other growers?   So many questions!  Feel free to ignore if I'm being too nosey!

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Awesome!

 

Those grapes are a thing of beauty.  

 

Roughly how many bottles will you get this year?  What do you do with the grape "leavings"?  Compost?

The net bottles each year is different depending on the weather.  If the grapes aren't ripening then some of the fruit needs to be cropped off the vines so the ones that are left can ripen.  This happened in few years ago and even the large wineries cropped as much as 60% of their grapes off in order to get enough sugar in the ones left.  We usually crop off grape bunches to one bunch per shoot on the vine and each vines will have around 8 shoots.  This will yield around 2 tons of fruit/acre.  Commercial growers leave 2 to 3 bunches of grapes per shoot for a acre yield of 6 to 8 tons.  If you take fruit off then what's left can develop more flavour.  Seeing we don't want a lot of our own wine (we like to drink different types of wines) we usually thin to one bunch, however, this year because the weather was so warm we decided to leave two bunches and it all ripened well.  If we had cut back maybe our sugars would have gotten too high before the rest of the juice chemistry was where we wanted it.  We have had anywhere from 60 to 90 bottles of each variety each year.  More than enough.  We are drinking 2011 at the moment and it is darn good.  Our label is called "That's Not Bad", ha, ha.

 

The pressed skins are in our compost in alternating layers of tomato and zuke plants.  Some of the members of our wine club have made grappa but that's just too much work for us.

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Thank you for sharing this.  I look forward to hearing more.  

How long have you been growing grapes and making your own wines?  Do you ever mix with purchased grapes or juice?  Is this all done on your property?  Do you own all this equipment or do you share with other growers?   So many questions!  Feel free to ignore if I'm being too nosey!

Glad to share.  I thought it might be fun to document our process this year and I love all the questions.  I'm not the wine maker in the family, that's my DH and in fact the vineyard is his domaine as well.  

We have 1.7 acres some of which is on a hill and not useable.  

 

Here is a picture from below before we built our house and then one afterwards

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We planted the vineyard in 2007 and here it is after we had just planted.  The milk cartons protect the plants from roundup which is used to keep the weeds down.  

The cartons are removed after the plant is tall enough that the leaves are out of the way.

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Here they are growing well.

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This is a picture of half the vineyard.

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Here the plants are a few years old and this is bud break.

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Later the bunches start to form.

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Here are the vines mid summer.  In this picture you can see we had some of the shoots going up and other going down with bunches up and down.  

This is one way of growing the vines.  But later we switched to just up.  It makes for less vine on the ground and easier to mow between the rows.

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We got our first harvest in 2009.  We just use our own juice.  We have a couple of friends who do the same as us and we share the crusher/de-stemer and the bladder press.  We all have our own fermentation vessels and tanks/barrels. Just last year some of the folks in Naramata who grow their own grapes and make their own wine started a club "Artisan Winemakers of Naramata".  There are about 15 families involved.  The guys meet one a month and have guest speakers who focus on various aspects of the process.  Of course sampling of everyone's creation is on the agenda!  Twice a year we have a social event will the wives so there are about 30 of us.  All a lot of fun.

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I know it's a ton of work, but you make it sound fun - especially since your other half is doing most of the work. The place is beautiful! I'm surprised at the landscaping plants. Are those yuccas Spanish Dagger? I thought it was a southern plant. :huh:

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Amazing - what a stunning place to live and grow things.  I was going to suggest that you take us through the season next year but I think you've gotten us caught up nicely here!  

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer.

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I am SO enjoying this. Your house and grounds are lovely - I love the flowers along the vineyards. Living in the Finger Lakes we are surrounded by wineries but almost all are commercial operations. This is so much more personal. And even if it is primarily your husband's domaine, you are very good at explaining your processes.

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I know it's a ton of work, but you make it sound fun - especially since your other half is doing most of the work. The place is beautiful! I'm surprised at the landscaping plants. Are those yuccas Spanish Dagger? I thought it was a southern plant. :huh:

The Okanagan is in growing zone 7b so, yeah things really grow.  In fact you can almost watch the snow peas grow in the summer.  :laugh:

Yes, those are Yuccas.  Our landscape plan doesn't specify which kind of Yucca they are but they have lovely white flowers in July which last for about two weeks.

The vineyard is a lot of work and here in the commercial vineyards everything is done by hand except spraying and hedging.  We spray with a small back pack so we do EVERYTHING by hand.

 

Here is the run down of what has to be done, more or less as I can recall:

 

February/March:  the shoots from last year are cut off.  We take them away by hand to the bottom of the property where we have an enormous mound of compost.

April:  the buds start coming out and they need to be thinned so there is only one or two buds per shoot.  Spray roundup near the plants to keep the weeds down and the weeds/grass between the rows need mowing every week.

May:  more bud thinning as they just keep coming.  The vines have to be sprayed for mildew and other stuff that happens...depends on the year.  One needs to be on the look out for bugs that bore into the buds.

June/July:  the vines are getting long enough that they need to be tucked between the first two fruiting wires to keep them upright.  More mildew spraying.  The Pinot Gris bunches have to be sprayed with a special chemical to prevent the bunches from getting rot.  The Pinot Gris bunches are very tight as you can see from the pictures above compared to the Merlot.  They are very susceptible to rot.  In fact we picked some friends' Pinot Gris yesterday and 1 in 10 bunches had rot and were thrown to the ground......the wine will not be good with all that in there.

July:  more tucking only this time in between the upper fruiting wires and the vines are getting long, I mean long, like 10 12 feet.  These need to be cut off and the wires clipped together so the shoots stay upright and don't get all tangled up.  You want air to be able to get through otherwise you will get mildew.  Any more buds that form need to be stripped off.

August:  maybe some bunch thinning and now we get more growth on the vines that have been cut and these 'side shoots' need to be cut off.  You don't want too much vegetative growth.

Sept:   More mildew spray (this is a sulfur based) and leaves are taken off near the bunches to let some light in and for good air circulation.

Oct:  early Oct is when we normally pick.  After the grapes are off the vineyard will need water before it is put to bed until Feb.

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Shelby, I just went out to the compost to dumb in some stuff from the kitchen and holly batman, the air is brown with fruit flies!  Billions of them.

 

Regarding the above post, I forgot that in September when the grapes are getting sweet, we have to put the bird nets on the vines so they cover the grapes.  The nets need to be quite tight otherwise the birds get up in under neath.  When grapes are damaged with birds or wasps (last year was the worst year for wasps...vineyards had bags of attractant on each end post and they were full of dead wasps) fruit flies can get into the fruit and that is something you don't want.  Some growers use bird cannons that fire off randomly to keep birds away but nets are much more effective (My poor dog hates them and heads for the house door when they go off).  Other critters that like grapes are bears and deer which we have here.  I friend who has a vineyard out of town with loads of forest around has an electrified fence around his vineyard to keep the bears off.

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I have had a grape vine on my balcony for several years, but so far not one grape to show for it.  I think he is a boy grape.

 

Feared this year he was dead because there was not a single leaf till halfway through the summer.  Now he is covered in leaves, but as I said, no grapes.  But being on the second floor bears are not a major issue.

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My friends in Washington State say the early harvest was a blessing because the grapes were picked before the bad fires and the wineries avoided smoke taint. Was that the case for you?  Smoke can be a huge issue here - eucalyptus smoke wine is really vile. 

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We had smoke from Washington State and from our fire down south of here in Oliver but nothing so bad that it would leave a taste.  Can't imagine Eucalyptus tainted wine...the new Retsina of Australia :=)))

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Oh your place is SO perfect.  Wow.  Just WOW.

 

I bet the fruit flies love you.  I'll send mine over.  They like my tomatoes but I bet they would like your grapes a lot better  :biggrin:

 

If I had those vineyards I'd set an easel up and paint those gorgeous vines and bunches of grapes.  While painting I'd sip on some wine that came from previous years....and I'd watch my husband work.   :laugh:

 

You have a lot of knowledge about all of this.  I think you should keep this thread updated forever :)

 

Do you ever just save the plain grape juice and drink it?  Ohhhhh BlueDolpin could make some kick ass popsicles I bet :)

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Thank you Shelby and others who commented about our place.  We did luck out getting the 1.7 acres in the Naramata Village.  Mostly there are city lot-sized places or 5 acre farms with fruit trees or vineyards.  We are a bit of a knoll so we have 360 views all around and down the lake.  It is quite a bit of work looking after it all and it is difficult to find a gardner but I think in the next year or so we will need to do that.

 

No we don't drink the wine grape juice plain.  I am not a big juice drinker.  We have some eating grapes that we did that with a couple of years back. We had a lot so needed to freeze it, but the problem is my freezer space is full so I can't do that this year.  We have an upright, a chest and the bottom of a fridge freezer and they are all full.  14 bags of blackberries; numerous bags of tomatoes preserved in different ways; some lamb from last year (we are getting two more in mid-October); grass fed beef from the same farm as the lambs; free range chickens from the farmer at the market and 8 or so jars of duck fat/rendered pork fat; not to mention our homemade sausages/bacon.  So, you get the idea.  Too much bounty here in the Okanagan. I didn't even make apple sauce/apricot or peach anything.  Sheesh.  Too much food, so few mouths to feed :-))

 

An update on the wine.  Both the red and white juices are fermenting away.  Each day my DH goes into the garage and punches down the 'cap' on the Merlot.  It's the crust of fermenting skins that forms and you want to keep the air available for fermentation.  Smells pretty good.  Next time he goes, I'll get him to take a picture.  The Pinot Gris without the skins is also bubbling away.  The white fermentation didn't go right away so my DH added some more yeast starter.  

 

We have one case of Pinot Gris left from last year and we are drinking the Merlot from 2011.  We have in the past poured the whole lot down the driveway.  Bad yeast or contamination got in and it was not good.  We were not testing for sulfur right the way through until bottling.  As I noted above you need to have some sulfur in there to kill bad unwanted bacteria/yeasts and the sulfur gets 'used up'  So we now know to test.  One of our friends is the General Manager of a large winery on the Naramata Bench and she lets us bring in as many samples as we like and her technician just runs our samples with theirs and then emails us with the results.  Much better results.  I guess we are lucky otherwise we would have to run it into town (16 kms) and pay for the testing.

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If only you could hear the yeast activity in those fermentation vessels.  Wow.  It's really going now and the whole garage smells like a winery!  The first picture is the Merlot.  My DH plunges into the liquid to move the top grapes down underneath and allowing new grapes to come to the surface.  This prevents the top grapes from getting nasty things growing on them and it incorporate air into the liquid to aid in fermentation.  The second picture is the Pinot Gris.  No skins, just the juice.   Pinot Gris grapes are pink-red on the outside and white inside so if you leave the skins on you get a very pink white wine!  Some winemakers do leave the juice on the skins but only for 4 to 12 hours then it is pressed.  This gives the Pinot Gris a slight pinkish tinge, kinda like a rose but very light.  It also adds some 'vine' flavour to the wine, I think.  We did that last year and the year before so this year we are going straight white.

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Wow!  There are many eGullet posts where I wish I had smell-o-vision hooked up to my screen and this is certainly one of them!

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Time to transfer the Pinot Gris into it's secondary fermenting vessel which is our 200 litre stainless steel tank which is mounted on a trolly so we can move it around.  

Here are the two fermenting vessels.  Notice the spigot at the bottom of the tank.

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This  is a picture of the wine in the primary vessel.  You can see it is quite messy with dried on matter up the sides and a few floating grapes, oops.

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Transferring the wine into the tank.  Everything gets washed down with metabisulfate to kill any bad bugs.

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Picture of the wine in the tank.  Looks very murky but all those dead yeast cells will settle at the bottom of the tank.  There is a spigot near the bottom for 'racking' the wine off which we will do once most of the fermentation is complete.

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Now the floating lid is put on the top of the wine so no air gets in.  This is crucial.  There is an expandable bladder around the lid and my DH is pumping up the bladder so it is tight against the sides.  It is pumped until wine comes out of the pressure release valve on top.  As the wine continues to ferment, the gases can escape out this valve.  We have to check it daily to ensure it is tight.

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Next up is the Merlot.  It has been in it's primary fermenting vessel for 10 days and it is ready to be pressed and put into it's tank.  Here is the must.

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The must is scooped out and put into the press.  Same press as in our other pictures from harvest day.

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Nice looking red.  This is called the 'free run' juice.  The grapes have not been pressed yet.

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The juice is put into it's tank.

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Here is a close up of the press.  Water is used to fill the bladder and pressure is applied to get the juice out.  We only use 2 psi as we don't want to press the grapes too much.  The press will go up to 10 psi.  You get more tannins if pressed too hard.  Yes, you don't get as much wine but we are going for quality over quantity.

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Here is the juice coming out of the press and a picture of the wine. I tastes really fine right now.  Very fruity.  It will be a very good year.  Now we wait and test the wine periodically to ensure the sulfur levels are at the right level to suppress bad bacteria and bad yeast.  Next task will be to rack the wine off the dead yeast cells.  That will be a month or so I think.

As an aside we just learned that one of the winemakers on the Naramata Bench passed his Master of Wine exams and is now one of 300 or so in the world!  Here is the story if you are interested:  http://www.mynaramata.com

 

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