It’s that time again – grape harvest in the Sierra Foothills of California. Unfortunately, we had one of the coolest summers on record so our own grapes (grown at nearly 3,000 ft. elevation) are unripe, and unlikely to ripen before frost. We purchased three varieties this year from other growers. My crusher motor stopped working, so some of these grapes were crushed under a pair of very large feet – size 14 (Keen) or 15 (Nike).

500 pounds Grenache

300 pounds Pinotage (a South African variety, rare in the USA)

600 pounds Syrah

This year, I’m fermenting in small (100 pound) batches in food-grade bins. This gives me the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of yeasts on the same grape and taste the results before choosing to barrel blend. It also allows increased skin-to-juice contact during maceration.

Apparently, there are only 40 acres of Pintoage planted in the USA, and half of those acres are here in the Sierra Foothills. My friend Aaron has been making a Pintoage for years, and it is always exceptional. This will be my first experience with the grape, which is a genetic cross of Pinot Noir (Burgundy) and Cinsault (Rhone).

When we picked the Pinotage, sugar content was at 30 brix. This is a MASSIVE amount of grape sugar, but the ripeness gave the grapes a really deep and rich flavor, almost raisin-like. At 30 brix, no yeast I’m aware of can handle the eventual alcohol (18%), so after a two-day cold enzyme soak, I diluted the must to 25 brix and started fermentation with slow starting, slow working Laffort FX-10 yeast. It’s said that Pinotage delivers better fruit flavors with a slow fermentation.

The Grenache came from my friend and neighbor John, coming in around 24 brix with high TA (0.9). I drew off 6 gallons of early crush, which will become a Grenache Rose. Am trying a new yeast called Lalvin Rhone 4600, which promises to bring out “complex aromatic notes and elevated ester produc­tion such as tropical (pineapple) and fresh fruit (apple, pear, strawberry).” We’ll see… The color of this year’s Grenache is medium salmon. It will probably become blending stock for some other wines currently in barrel.

The Syrah ended its cold soak last night. I’m experimenting with three different yeasts: D-254, D-21, and FX-10.  Am also separating for later blending decision the hard press from the free run, as each gives a unique character to the wine.

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