There are no real ends in wine (maybe when the bottle is finished…but that just leads to the beginning of another bottle being opened!), but there are moments in the history of harvest to bottling where the winemaker needs to make a definitive decision that separates one part of winemaking from another. Harvest is certainly one of those times…once you pick grapes you cannot re-attach them. Press Day is another.
Pressing is the process of taking the skins, seeds, and other schmutz and squeezing them to reclaim the last bit of wine. The Lineage Collection winemaking team spends a lot of time evaluating when its wines are ready to go to the press. Like the harvest, once you press the wine, there is no going back. Consequently, we taste through our fermenters on a daily basis, making mock blends, to help us determine the right time to move the wine on to its next step.
Our press is a large balloon holding 3-5 tons of fruit. We adjust the amount of pressure the balloon exerts on the fruit, from 0 to 2 BAR (a BAR is the same pressure as that of the atmosphere) in increments so that we can taste how the wine changes in flavor and texture. The press cycle takes about 1.5 hours, and I change the pressure every 3-7 minutes depending upon variety and the way the wine is feeling.
Accompanying each press cycle is a blind tasting of wine. This is one of our traditions and a way for the winemaking team to commune with each other and to sharpen our skills. Being out in the sunlight, helping a wine move along the apotheosis-spectrum over an hour-and-a-half, tasting it at each change in pressure as it moves from fermenting liquid-hope in the cellar to actual special-wine-in-training, figuring out what that bagged wine might be and talking animatedly about what we have done with the grapes that were crushed a month earlier and are now being shepherded onto their aging phase is to reveal the whole winemaking process – harvest to crush to fermenting wine – to pressed wine – to finished liqueur in the bowl of our glass (or plastic beaker!) in a discrete and life-giving moment.
By the time the season is over, we will have pressed off 25 wines or so, each press cycle is different, and each wine is different. What does not differ though is our commitment to making the world’s finest wines, to learn, and to celebrate while we do it.