The rewards and frustrations of home winemaking

2011 Syrah Harvest at Live Oak Vineyard

Time for another syrah harvest at Live Oak Vineyard in Fallbrook!  I was the first to arrive, just as the sun broke over the mountains to the East.  The weather this year was perfect so far.  I did smell a nearby wildfire as I drove up to the vineyard, but nothing threatening to interfere with a perfect harvest.

Harvest this year was part of a Hands-on Winemaking class I’m leading at Curds and Wine.  Everyone else in the group started showing up shortly after my arrival, eager and excited for their first wine grape harvest.  After some coffee and muffins, Mike and Tricia Hoffman, the vineyard owners and our hosts for the day, gave a brief overview of harvest then lead the group down to start taking the bird netting off of the vines.

Step one on harvest day: remove and roll up bird netting just before harvest

As we pulled the netting off of the vines, we could hear the birds gathering around us.  It was like they knew the grapes were exposed now,  so we needed to get to work fast to get the grapes before the birds did.  Mike has 140 vines of syrah, clone 877, for us to harvest.  We had about 20 people total, and harvest actually went pretty fast — and no one cut their finger this year!

The grapes looked great this year!  We started in the upper vineyard “Cima Sur,” then Mike hauled the load down to the crushpad with his tractor.

We finished up harvesting the lower vineyard “Este,” then moved the grapes to the crushpad.  The lower vineyard had a lot more raisins than “Cima Sur.”  When we were done, we harvested 1100 pounds!  My group will take 600 pounds for our class.

We fired up the crusher/destemmer and processed the grapes, then put a little Kmeta and dry ice on the must to inhibit spontaneous fermentation.  My group will do a 3-day cold soak before pitching our yeasts, partially because it is a convenient day for us to regroup.

We were done by about 10 am, and we all retired to the patio to toast the 2011 syrah harvest with 2010 vintage Syrah, then have a feast of Italian food.  Luckily we were under some cover, as a pretty heavy rain came out of nowhere just before we started eating!

After a while we packed up the cans and trucked them back down to Curds and Wine.  The must was already warming up a little, so we added a little more dry ice then stirred in pectinase and Opti-Red.

An initial brix check of the must gave an average of about 24 brix, right on the spot!  We didn’t test our pH or TA yet, but Mike reported in that his must was at pH 3.35 and TA 7.5-8.  A perfect harvest this year!  The initial color is a dark fuschia, I expect it to become darker by the time we pitch the yeast in a few days.

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