Continuing with the harvest, Jan Palaggi of Palaia Vineyards Winery talks about what harvest means to her and the winery.
1. What does Harvest mean to you?
It is a time of joy for me – after nursing all those vines for the entire spring and summer, pruning, tucking, spraying, tucking and more tucking, it is finally time to reap the rewards of all that work. To see those clusters and taste the sunlight in the grapes while you pick them….it is pure joy.
2. What are factors in knowing when is the right time to pick the grapes?
After years of experimenting and reading about when to pick – it comes down to weather and signs of ripeness. We test for sugar in the grapes, and if the seeds inside are browning, and if the skins are still firm or too firm or wrinkled from lack of water. If you get too much water, you get watery wine, but if you have wrinkles…you get “Crimson Clove” which is our Holiday wine and has a slight raisin taste and is sweet and that is from not enough water. If a hurricane is coming…pick the grapes. I went thru 2 hurricanes and lost one entire crop, but saved the other.
3. Once the grapes are picked, what is the process of getting it from vine to bottle?
We drive thru the rows and dump the grapes into the larger one ton bins. These get taken right to the winery where we get them all together. Then we take our tractor with forks on it and strap a bin to it. Drive up to the elevator that has a bin at the bottom and tip the bin. 2 of us then use a hoe and gently slide the grapes into the bin. They go up the elevator to the crusher/de-stemmer where the grapes are beaten off the stems and go into a crusher where just the skins are broken. Then, if they are red grapes they are pumped into the winery and into more one ton bins to be fermented. If they are white grapes they go directly to the crusher. When it is full, it is started up and the juice goes right into a tank to be fermented. That takes about an hour and a half per batch. Pressed, rotated, pressed, etc. The balloon inside inflates and pressed the grapes against the drum with holes in it to get the juice. But, you cannot press to hard or you get a bitter taste from the seeds. Luckily the machine knows what it is doing and we just have to wait. The juice is then given a recipe of additives to help fermentation by the winemaker all depending on how much juice is in each container. A special yeast for whites and reds, honey wine and cider are used. If I tell you the recipe, I would have to shoot you! Just kidding. It is my Husband Joe’s job and we just lug the buckets and stir the bins. Twice a day the grapes are then pressed down and turned over as they ferment so the color comes out of the red grapes and they ferment evenly. It is a hard job to do this by hand, but worth it in the end. We check the sugar every day to see if the yeast has eaten it all and the fermentation is over. When it gets to zero sugar, we press the grapes. The wine (since once fermentation is over, it is officially wine) is then checked to see if it has enough SO2 to keep it from spoiling, and left to rest for 2-3 months. We check the S02 monthly to make sure it is stable, but the wine needs to settle out to get it to clear. We then “rack” the wine – siphon off the top to get clear wine into another tank, and dispose of the sludge at the bottom (which is a lovely shade of magenta by the way) back into the fields. We also spread the stems and waste from crushing back into the fields. Then, the good wine is tested for S02 and left to mature. We usually wait almost a year for reds to bottle them, and about 6 months for whites. We do “bench trials” to see what the wine tastes like and if we need to add anything to it, or how to blend it with another wine to get the right flavor. It is then approved by the winemaker, filtered, another test for S02 to make sure it will be stable and then into the bottle it goes. Simple, right? Ha!
4. Do you have any activities that allow the public to participate in harvest (ie. grape picking, cellar rat for a day?)
Not anymore. We process grapes right out by the parking lot though and if they are here on a Saturday when we are picking and crushing, they can come right up and take a look. September, right into October. We have processed in the rain, sun and even snow. When the grapes are ready, they are ready. We answer questions and enjoy talking to people as long as they do not get in the way of the tractor so they do not get hurt.
5. What events do you have for the public if any to celebrate the Harvest? (ie. Harvest party, grape stomping etc.)
We have a Harvest Festival the 24th of September, 12-6. Grape stomping, pumpkin decorating, hayrides thru the vineyard, and of course a great band on the outside stage. We have local vendors of all kinds on the lawn, beer, food, cider, doughnuts, and a bounce house for the kids. $10/person and kids are free. It is our last outdoor event for the year and so we really have a great time. Then, at night we have another band for the adults from 7-10 inside for free.