Pumped Over- and Out

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The leaves are brown but there are still a few unpicked grapes around

The last time I saw Eric Fry, winemaker at Lenz Winery, I was washing the just- harvested grape detritus from plastic bins. A lot had happened since then- that is, Eric and his crew had harvested all their white grapes and most all their reds (save for the Cabernet Sauvignon). Eric had called a few times since then to ask when I saw coming back “to get dirty.” Yesterday was the day that I answered the call.

“We’re pumping over and punching down,” Eric had said. “You should come over around eight am.” Pumping over isn’t shorthand for a winery fitness routine but the process by which the fermenting red grape skins, which have formed a cap, are pumped over with a hose (Eric uses hoses though some wineries use other techniques like sprays.)  Pumping over mixes the skins with the juice and extracts flavor and color. It also prevents the cap from drying out, which could allow  bacteria to develop.) Punching down is basically the same idea but performed with other methods like rakes – or feet.

I climbed a few ladders and pumped over a few tanks (i.e. held the hose and wetted the cap thoroughly for up to fifteen minutes or so – though later in the week it would take longer). “Is this dangerous?” I asked Eric from my perch atop the rickety ladder. “Only if you fall into the tank,” Eric replied.

I did a little punching down as well (Petit Verdot) in a big plastic bin. Then we tasted all of the wines out of tank – components of Chardonnays and Gewurztraminers and even a bit of foamy, still-fermenting Merlot. “I’ve already read comments from other winemakers about the quality of wines they expect from this year’s harvest-what are your thoughts?” I asked Eric , who just snorted. “There’s no way to know anything right now,” he replied (though in truth his reply was a tad – saltier.) That certainly made sense to me- after all, he hadn’t even put the wines together – that would happen later this winter in what Eric called the “intellectual” component of winemaking.

After three hours, my back was killing me and I had (other) work to do still – so I took my leave – and on the way out,  bought a couple of bottles of the excellent 2002 Lenz sparkling wine (Eric is particularly gifted at making sparkling wine). “We’re harvesting Cabernet most of next week,” said Eric in lieu of good-bye. I promised I would give him a call (though maybe when the pumping over was through?)

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