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Making Wine ~ Step-By-Step

Ripe for the pickin'
Growing Grapes... Our wines come from growers whose farming families date back to the turn of the century here in Mendocino County, where care and knowledge go into growing grapes in the proper location.  The right conditions in the vineyard will bring out the most striking qualities in the grapes. Harvest is done by hand at the optimum time, when the natural acidity and rich fruit sugars are in balance and the grapes are plump and full of juice. Subtle and complex, the right amount of sun and rain at the right moments in the right soil, can make magic in the hands of an experienced and intuitive  winemaker.
Pickin' Zinfindel

Grape delivery
Harvest... Harvest begins at dawn - best done on cool, foggy mornings to retain moisture for the slow trip over the notoriously curvy  Hwy 20.   North at scenic Hwy 1 they ultimately find the way to our coastal perch 12 miles north of Fort Bragg, where the crew anticipates the fun about to begin.  
Hauling grapes over the hill

Sorting grapes

The Crush... Bins are tipped into a large hopper and moved  by conveyor belt  toward the crusher-destemmer. Passing by many busy hands, we toss out leaves, rocks, and any unripe or mold-damaged clusters. The Concept: “If you wouldn’t eat it we don’t make wine from it.” It takes just a small percentage of sour tasting clusters to effect the ultimate wine flavor, so we take this laborious step often bypassed by large producers in the name of efficiency.

A giant stainless cylinder rotates inside the destemmer where stems get separated from berries and discarded. Individual berries get fully crushed to release the delicious juice. Now called “must”, this mixture of  grape pulp, thick gooey juice and skins gets pumped into open-topped stainless steel vats for a 24-48 hour settling before fermentation is encouraged to begin.

Into the crusher

Sally checks fermentation

Rainbow over fermenters!
Fermentation... Fermentation is a natural process and left alone,  grapes would spontaneously ferment aided by ambient (wild) yeasts present in the vineyard and concentrated on the stems. Modern wine researchers have developed a multitude of specialized yeast strains to assure the  clarity and stability of the end product and to help determine style by encouraging the development of specific flavors and aromas.

Fermentation: What's happening?  When the yeast comes in contact with the sugary grape juice, it begins to feed on it, rapidly growing and reproducing. Enzymes within the yeast convert abundant sugar in the juice into roughly equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide and releases energy in the form of heat.

During fermentation wines are monitored   twice a day by hydrometer readings to determine how much sugar has converted to ethyl alcohol, a process that takes between 7-14 days. The must also has to be stirred, called “pushing down the cap,” because the skins will rise to the top and dry out, being lifted by the billions of carbon dioxide gas bubbles forming underneath.  This way the fermentation process remains consistent, like stirring a red sauce on the stove. Eventually all the sugar is consumed and fermentation is complete. Finally... you have wine - a bit raw at this point, but WINE!

Punching the cap

Checkin' the specs

Pressing the grapes
Pressing... The next step separates the solids from the  skins.  Called “pressing”, we use several pieces of equipment depending on the size of the lot.  Small amounts 5A water bladder basket press with wooden slats leave enough room for the wine to go through but not the skins. There is a bladder in the middle of the press that slowly fills with water and will eventually press the skins into a hard cake, which we remove when we have extracted all the wine from the must. We then pump the wine into our barrels for aging.
More pressing

Barrel aging outside

Aging... New wine is thin and tart and will get better with aging.  As the wine sits in the barrels some of the water will slowly evaporate through the pores in the wood barrels and needs to be replaced with more wine. This is how wine becomes concentrated, similar to simmering a sauce. Over time you have a concentrated liquid with flavors that have developed in the aging process.

What else makes up wine besides alcohol? It’s 83-85% water, 12-15% ethyl alcohol, with small amounts of Tartaric and Malic acids (keeps wine from spoiling), esters (that’s what you are smelling), tannins (in red wines what most people call the “dry” effect), and about 300 other minor components.

Waiting is the hardest part

The bottling line boys

Bottling... When the wine is ready for consumption it is time to bottle it. Bottling is done not just to transport and sell it, it is done to keep the wine from spoiling. Before bottling was invented wine would spoil very quickly in barrels once air got to it and bacteria could turn the Tartaric acid into vinegar (Acetic acid). Even the “air” space you see at the top of a bottle is not air; it is pure Nitrogen gas.

We use a mobile bottling service that is a self-contained bottling plant in one large truck. The unit collects the bottles, fills the bottles (first nitrogen and then wine), corks the bottle, attaches the front and back labels, and adds the foil. Human labor then puts the bottles into the case boxes and they are stacked on pallets.  We listen to a lot of loud music during the day and consume beer at the end. 

Wine into the bottle...
  Bottle Shock... Imagine yourself sleeping for many months and then be rudely awakened.  Would you be ready for anything? That is what happens to wine. It has been quiet and sleeping for 2 years, and then suddenly pumped into holding tanks, through a hose and then bottled. Wine will eventually come around, some in a few days and others in a few weeks (Pinot Noir).