Doggwood Vineyard (photo by Terrence McCarthy)
Making fine wine is an artisan enterprise, and as vintners throughout the ages have demonstrated, it can be accomplished without the use of advanced technology. However, having a few nifty tools on hand certainly makes the task more efficient and more likely to produce the best wine possible.
Each year, Winemaker Julianne Laks is tasked by the Cakebread family with creating a strategic plan for enhancing wine quality and winemaking efficiency at Cakebread Cellars. (We’re never satisfied, no matter how good our wines are.) For 2011, Julianne pinpointed three areas in which our performance could be improved: press capacity, grape sorting, and juice and wine analysis.
We send our white grapes—Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—directly to the press (i.e., they’re not crushed first), where the juice is gently squeezed from the skins. In the past, our press capacity has sometimes been insufficient to accommodate all the white grapes ready to be harvested on a particular day, resulting in parcels of fruit having to spend an extra day or two hanging on the vine. This can lead to what Cakebread Cellars President Bruce Cakebread refers to as “brix creep” (brix is a measure of sugar content in grapes), which in turn can result in higher alcohol levels in our wines. Because one of our goals these days is to reduce the amount of alcohol in our wines, adequate press capacity is essential.
To achieve it, we recently acquired a new Diemme 15-ton bladder press, increasing our press capacity by 50%. This means we can now press 45 tons of grapes at a time, ensuring our whites are picked at the exact moment they reach optimal maturity—what Cakebread Cellars Winemaker Julianne Laks calls “precision harvesting.”
Of course, installing a new press is not as easy as simply plopping it down in the winery. It requires electrical power and a supply of air to the bladder inside the press that squeezes the grapes. So, our Cellar Master, Brian Lee, had to add electricity, install a new air tank and compressor, and also fabricate a new hopper, catwalk and stairway to support the new press. The work was not completed until early September, cutting it very close for harvest.
“Fortunately, harvest began several weeks late this year,” a relieved Brian notes. “If it hadn’t—well, I’d rather not think about it.”