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Crush Update: Week 11

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Posted: Monday, November 1, 2010 8:19 pm

With frost on the ground, "We crushed our last 2.5 tons of Cabernet, fortified and pressed our port, pressed our Carignane. Yep. We're rapping it up," wrote Tom Hoffman of Heritage Oak Winery last Thursday.

No doubt there are still scattered pockets of vines still carrying ripe Lodi winegrapes, but by and large, the 2010 harvest is now complete.

Last week, Brad Goehring picked clean his remaining Petite Verdot vines. Bokisch Vineyards and Peirano Estate finished up, while Woodbridge Winery reported crushing a harvest total of 107,000 tons - much more than all of Lodi's small wineries put together.

On Friday, Van Ruiten's winemaker, Ryan Leeman, happily showed me bins of their Happy Holmes Vineyard Zinfandel shriveled almost to raisining, ideal for making late harvest Zin. Those grapes were at 32˚ Brix of sugar, meaning fermenting yeast will be lucky to bring the wine up to 16% alcohol before dying off, leaving it naturally sweet and delicious.

What may be picked over the next few weeks would be grapes for sweet dessert wines, particularly late harvest Viognier and Port-style wines.

By the way, the difference between "late harvest" and "Port" is simply that the later has straight 190-proof alcohol added to stop fermentation at a desired sugar level. (The other difference is that since an agreement between the U.S. and the European Union, tasting rooms now tell you, "This is our Port that we can't call Port.")

But just because harvest is over doesn't mean everyone is flying off on vacation. Vineyards need watering for a late-season root push and perhaps fertilizer to support next year's growth. All those tanks and bins filled with crushed grapes and ravenous yeast still need lots of daily attention, pressing and barreling down.

During fermentation a raft of skins and whole grapes rises and floats on the surface of each tank, supported partly by all the carbon dioxide bubbling up from underneath, creating a "cap."

To release the color and flavor of those skins and keep them from drying out and molding, wineries either "pump over" or "punch down" the cap.

Pumping over involves putting a hose near the bottom of the tank to suck out the liquid wine and spray it back over the cap to break it up. Punching down means sinking the cap into the liquid underneath using a disk on a pole, a strong arm, or a pair of naked legs.