Earlier this year on a September Saturday morning, we met with my uncle downtown Seattle in the SODO district to pick up more than a ton of petite syrah and old vine zinfandel grapes. The grapes were in wooden crates, held together on a pallet, trucked in from Santa Clara California. The Farmer, Louie Cello was there to meet us. We loaded up my uncle's pick up with stacks of the wooden crates with purple grapes overflowing out the sides. We were told to watch out for brown recluse, as they hang out in the vineyards, i did not see any, though you can bet I had one eye looking out for them always.
We drove to the infamous Doug Shadd's house near the University District and began to unload the wooden crates. Doug Shadd is a facinating character. Not yet 5'10, large coke-bottle glasses magifiy gentle eyes and I've never seen him without a heavy flannel shirt or mud splashed denim or carharts. He is in every way a farmer. In his back yard he has two apple trees he has grafted that produce more than 5 diffrent kinds of apples. A line of different colored carboys holding different types of grapes fermenting look like a painter's watercolors against the side of his house. We instantly got to work.
A ton of grapes is a lot! We unloaded crate after crate of grape clusters the color of antique velvet curtains from a childhood theater stage- dusty, deep and violet. We tipped them one by one into the crusher de-stemmer. A mechanical device that looks like it came out of a comic book- The Crusher De-Stemmer! Moo-Ha HA HA! Or an evil villian if nothing else. Actually it is quite amazining. The stainless steel machine is a speedier process than your average Italian grape stomping event- and a bit less leg hair. With a motor much smaller than your push-lawn mower, a belt moves to turn the wheels, that turn a stainless steel tube- resembling a cylindar cheese grater- removing stems into one large white bin and grape skins and its sticky juices into the other.
Once all of the grapes are separated from their stems, a small does of sulfites are added to the juice to prevent the wrong types of unwanted yeast from growing. Using my uncle's refractometer- we test the grape's sugar content- measured by Brix. Zinfandel at 24.9, Petite syrah....just over 19- which is not good. We will have to add sugar to the Petite syrah. next, the grapes will sit for 2-3 weeks among the skins to absorb all the lovely deep purples and red and crimson of red grapes and then its time to press!