Big Boy Pants
Bruliam Wines is big of heart but small in scope. But even we, “the smallest winery you’ve never heard of,” grow incrementally. When you start with a single barrel of wine, you expand by log scale. Now into my 6th harvest, my winemaking operation remains about as low tech as in ‘08. I simply don’t purchase enough tonnage to use the big, shiny, temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks. I’m more of a plastic Macrobin kind-of-girl. Rather than rely on a cooling jacket coursing with food grade glycol, I prefer cool my berries by hand, doling out dry ice pellets with a plastic scooper. OK, “prefer” is a strong verb. I pretend to thrive on the stress of uncontrolled temperature swings but secretly yearn to join the big boys in a tank. When my bins get really cooking, I push down the heaving amalgamation of grape skins and seeds with a metal stick and my own strength. Often it works. Other times the intern leans back on one of the icy-cool tanks and settles in to watch me struggle. I vowed this year would be different.
It all started with a minor shift in our grape contract. Rather than purchase by weight (one ton or two tons of fruit), we contracted by vineyard space. Laughably, we have 5 whole Bruliam rows in one block and 10 shorter rows in another. It averages 1/3 acre per block. But given this year’s audacious fruit set and exuberant clusters, our predicted yield exploded from 2 to 4 tons. The winery tanks hold 6 tons, so even with a bumper crop, I’m still too lean for a tank. But there’s another option – a wooden tank. A winemaking buddy got one in 2011 and loved it so much he bought another in 2012. I was covetous. And they hold about 4 tons – just my size.
Breathlessly, I delivered the news to Bruliam CFO Brian Overstreet. “Guess what?! We are getting 4 tons of Gaps Crown pinot. I’ll need more new barrels, AND I get to use the wooden tank!” Brian processed “more new barrels” and stopped. Then his neurons imploded. His axons fired furiously, converting Euros to dollars at the day’s exchange rate. Ching! Ching! Ching! Smoke oozed from his ears. And then it was over. Recovered from sticker shock, he re-processed the data. I again explained I was finally getting to play with a tank, a wooden one. It would be awesome. He looked at me and said, “You mean you get to wear big boy pants?”
On the big day, the Gaps Crown truck arrived with my fruit – 3.1 tons. My heart broke, and my lower lip quivered for a split second. Darn it; I’d already imagined the blog post about my big 4 tons. It was back to the Macrobins. Grower Mark Pisoni sensed my sorrow and offered me 4.1 tons of Soberanes pinot. “Are you sure you can handle 4 tons, Kerith? Now take good care of this fruit!” As if that wouldn’t stress me out. Then three different and fabulously talented vintners each warned me to watch the temperature. Wooden vessels can get really hot, and there’s no glycol jacket. As if that didn’t stress me out more.
So I rose to the occasion, literally. Three times a day I climbed up the big ladder and onto an 8 foot 2×12 plank bisecting the tank. And I punched down the cap with the trusty metal stick and my big-ass guns. Fermentation finished without a hitch. You can see my sweet curves below.
And here’s me in action doing punch downs: