Petite Sirah on the Vine
This grape, also known as Durif, adds color and tannin to red blends. These vines were growing on the property closest to the winery at Martini. They weren't quite ready to pick last week, but getting there.
Cabernet on the Vine
Cabernet's loose clusters help it resist mold and mildew. The berries are small, with a high seed-to-pulp ratio. When I visited, Martini's crew were waiting for a bit more ripeness before picking these Cabernet grapes. It was a cool summer, so they were hoping for a few more warm days. (But no rain!)
In addition measuring sugars in the grapes and tasting them for ripeness, tannin, and acid, winemakers observe the seeds, which change from green to brown as the fruit ripens.
Delivering the Grapes
Grapes getting delivered into the receiving pit. High end wines may be hand-sorted on a vibrating table to get rid of MOG (material other than grapes) and/or separated using a sensor that can discard overripe or green berries. Cheaper wines will be produced more efficiently and treated less delicately.
This model shows how after some soaking, a cap made of grape skins tends to float to the top of the tank (seeds move toward the bottom.) But it's important to keep the cap moist, and winemakers want to extract more flavor, color, and tannin from the skins. A few solutions follow.
At Martini's Cellar 254, winemakers punch down the cap into the grape must using this machine.
Everybody Must Punch Down
Punching down at William Hill.
Pumping the grape must over the top of the cap with this hose extracts more tannins than the punch down. (Warning: Stand back! Just after this picture was taken, I got a splash of fermenting grape juice all over my shoes.)
After fermenting on the skins for a few weeks, the grape must is drained from the tank, and the pomace is pressed to blend with the free run juice. Ultimately the pomace will be composted and can be returned to the fields.
In the Barrel Room
Barrels are like a winemaker's spice rack. Different varieties of barrels will add different flavors and character to the wine as it ages, and many winemakers use a variety of barrels before blending the final product. American oak extracts quickly and is a bit sweet, while Hungarian oak is very spicy (and affordable.) French oak has a tight grain and tends to extract more slowly, lending earthy chocolate and delicate citrus notes to the wine.
New Barrels Awaiting Wine
These new barrels will be pressed into service soon at Martini. Not all wine sees a barrel, though. To keep the price of bottom-shelf vino down, winemakers sometimes infuse oak flavor into a stainless steel tank of wine by dipping in wood cubes or staves.
Bottling It Up
After the winemakers perfect their blend, they'll let the flavors marry in a tank overnight before bottling. Here's the bottling line at William Hill. Despite its small size, they can process 4,000 cases per ten hour shift here.
Gorgeous scenery always goes well with wine. As far as food pairings go, I particularly liked Martini's Gnarly Vine Zinfandel with beef jerky (though it's awesome with grilled meats as well).
I'm usually not one for dry wine and dessert pairings, but William Hill's Napa Valley Merlot was surprisingly good with a cinnamon-spiked chocolate truffle. The rich baked-blueberry flavors of this wine were fantastic with the barely-sweet chocolate, though I also think it would also work nicely with turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving.