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Harvest Season in Temecula Valley

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

All over California, winegrowers are picking, racking, and punching down – it’s smack dab in the middle of Harvest Season!

Harvest – or “Crush” as it’s often called in the New World – usually falls between August and October.  Specific times of picking are determined primarily by ripeness of the grape as measured by sugar, acid, and tannin levels, which varies with each winemaker depending on the style of wine they wish to produce.  The weather can also shape the timetable of harvesting with the threat of heat, rain, hail, and frost which can damage the grapes.  Did you know that most harvesting takes place at night?  The grapes need to be cool at the time of picking, so farm crews all over Temecula Valley set up their floodlights and mechanical pickers in the evening and pick until dawn.

You may have heard a particularly odd wine term called “punching down the cap.”  When grapes or grape bits are left in a fermentation vessel, as in red wine making, all the solids—grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp—rise to the surface. This mass of solid matter is called a “cap,” and winemakers want to integrate the cap back into the wine. Think of the cap like a tea bag—if it’s just sitting there floating on top, you’re not going to get the color or flavor that you would if you dunk it in to steep. (Also, leaving the cap floating on top runs the risk of bacterial growth.)

There are two main ways to deal with the cap: pump-overs and punch-downs. Pump-overs are what they sound like: the fermenting juice is circulated, or pumped, over the cap. This doesn’t break up the cap so much as it helps keep it submerged. A punch-down is when a device (think of a big potato-masher) pushes the cap down, breaks it up and submerges it again.

The how (and how often) of dealing with the cap depends on a winemaker’s style. The more aggressive one is with breaking up the cap, the more a wine will be extracted, dark and tannic.  Just an FYI, if a winemaker invites you to help with a punch-down, you’re in for a workout! It takes an extraordinary amount of physical effort to punch down that cap.

 Temecula Valley – Images from Harvest 2011:

 

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