Over the last week or so, I was lucky enough to participate in blending some of last years vintage of Substance (warning: flash) Syrah, to prepare it for bottling sometime this fall, which, when the winery has thirty barrels of it, is kind of an involved process.
The wine completed primary fermentation in large fermenter bins last fall, and then the must (the wine along with the skins) was pressed into 3rd-and-4th pass french oak barrique (a french term for a 225 liter (about 60 gallons, a beer keg is 15 gallons) barrel). My assistant winemaker, Dreux, insists that after the 2nd use, practically no oak flavor is imparted by the wood, but does admit that the barrels may add some textural components. Barrels past 5 or 6 years are put out to pasture, as they throw too many skronky, off aromas for Jamie‘s liking.
The wines complete their malolactic fermentation (a requirement for nearly all red wines, softening their acid) in these barrels, as well as the process of settling out all the protein, dead yeast cells, and small pieces of grape skin that made it through the press. This sediment rests on the bottom of the barrel as a lavender sludge, which, obviously, you don’t want people to be drinking. First, we need a vessel that will hold 1800 gallons of wine, and luckily, we happen to have one or two of those at Waters.
Someone (me) has to clean this tank though, to remove any unwanted microbes, enzymes, etc. To do that, I have to climb inside of it, which involves getting into the tank through a comically small door located about 3 feet up the side of the tank. This tank is almost immediately turned into a sauna for the washer/occupant, as I use 180-degree water to sear all the unwanted micro-fauna off of the tank walls. One learns very quickly that stainless steel is quite conductive and that being exposed to 180-degree water (hereafter known simply as “180”) makes the stainless steel 180 degrees as well in little time.
After gingerly (oh! eee! yi! hot! yow!) climbing out of the tank, spraying the door, as well as wherever in the tank you were standing, you can start to sanitize your pumping equipment, which undergoes an even more thorough bacterial pogrom.
A hose leads from the tank to a variable-direction pump (so you can get both the wine into the blending tank as well as back out to the cleaned barrels), then out to another hose, the end of which is attached to a siphoning wand through a series of ingenious washers and clamps. Before you do any of this, you need to run your washers and clamps through the triple rinse system, which is sodium percarbonate (peroxy) solution, citric acid solution, and clean water.
The peroxy does the heavy lifting, as it’s an intense oxidizer, present in miracle-clean products like OxiClean. The citric acid solution also isn’t great for microorganisms, but it also neutralizes the peroxy and is also naturally present in wine, so if any small quantity of it makes it past the purifying neutral water bath, no harm, no foul.
Oxidization, being the enemy of wine, mandates that you would keep your peroxy as far away from your wine as possible. After rinsing your fittings, you need to sterilize the whole pump set-up, so you pump, in succession, 50-gallon plastic garbage cans full of 180 and peroxy, citric solution, and clean water through all your hosing. The clean water ensures that your lines are clean and ready to go following their sanitizing regime.
That’s basically how to sanitize a pumping set up in order to rack, which again, is more complicated than you might think and will be covered in my next post…