Crush is one of the busiest times of the winemaking calendar, starting with the early ripening grapes of September and lasting, at times, until November. While the harvest is usually synonymous with the actual vineyards, we get just as busy in downtown Denver. Here’s how it all shakes out.
Step 1: The Order
Perhaps the trickiest part of operating an urban winery in Denver is finding grapes. If you’ve been to the winery, it’s obvious the fruit doesn’t come from around the corner, rather from more than 200 miles away in either the Grand Valley or Paonia in most cases. The trick is tracking down the key grapes of Bonacquisti (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio) from the local purveyors, which is a process that starts in spring as winemaker and owner Paul Bonacquisti begins negotiating with the growers. Then it is a simple game of wait and see. As in wait for the grapes to ripen and see if there’s some fluke weather storm or act of nature that hurts the crop. See, the urban winery gets his or her share cut long before the winery that owns the vineyard. There’s of course a backup plan: Lodi or some other high end West Coast AVA. Paul sources certain grapes from there every year that don’t grow in Colorado, such as Zinfandel, and has a few phone numbers on speed dial if there’s trouble with the local grapes if there’s an early frost or a mishap with bird netting.
Step 2: The Harvest
While Paul never has to pick the grapes himself, he is an important part of the actual harvest process. Once grapes are secured, he is in constant communication with the grower as harvest nears, learning of the ripening process on a near daily basis. Depending on the wine style, there will be a certain target brix reading (a measure of the grape’s sugar) that will signal him to tell the grower to pick!
Step 3: The Delivery
Once the call to pick is given, it sets in motion a process that doesn’t end until a truck has arrived filled with grapes to 46th and Pecos. As delicately as possible, harvested grapes are placed in bins and packed into a refrigerated truck, which leaves once it’s loaded and heads straight for the Front Range. Paul has a few day’s heads up to when the grapes will arrive and is hopefully able to spread out delivery of the harvest of over the course of a few weeks. That’s not always the case; in 2008, he received a record 11 tons from various growers in one day. Luckily there was plenty of wine to consume once the stress of the day was behind.
Step 4: The Crush!
With bins full of white and red grapes, it’s time to start making wine. The crush part of the process varies by grape style. In the case of whites, the juice is pressed and the skins, seeds and stems are removed shortly after to leave a clean, crisp must to ferment in stainess steel. In the case of red wine grapes, Paul presses the juice out but leaves the pieces in the wine after the crush. This allows the color, tannins and body to extract from the skins, seeds and stems. During this process, the byprodcuts are mashed down every few hours to integrate the additives into the wine as much as possible.
Step 5: The Fermentation and Storage
Once the labor intensive part of crush is over, the waiting beings. Paul triggers the fermentation process, which turns sugar into alcohol. He can control when to stop this, meaning he dictates the final alcohol and sugar levels. Once the desired balance is reached (for most of his wines, Paul ferments until all the sugar is gone leaving wines dry), it’s time for storage and aging. Depending on the wine, this can mean time in stainless steel or oak or both, and the time that it sits there varies from a few months for some to a year or more in oak for others. This step includes, of course, lots of tank and barrel sampling, and when Paul determines the wine is ready, it's off to bottling. Then it's not too much longer before you can enjoy it.
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