The warm days of summer might be over but it’s the middle of grape harvest and for wine lovers that means the chance to go back to camp. Some local wineries offer harvest immersions also known as “Crush Camps” which are half day stints to several day excursions offering hands on winemaking. The serious wine camper might start very early in the morning to pick grapes alongside day laborers who have been working since 2 am. If you are not that committed, you can start the process, as I did, once the fruit has arrived at the winery. I went to "day camp" at Crushpad in Sonoma, a custom crush facility where I have been making wine for nearly a year. My first task was to remove leaves, rocks and bad grapes from freshly picked Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir clusters. A conveyer belt then dropped the grapes into a giant destemmer. I am afraid I let a few unwanted items go by in my effort to learn the task.
Nearby the destemmer, red grapes were fermenting in open plastic bins. I had heard the term, "punch down," but never knew exactly what it meant. Well, nothing like actually doing a task to get a first hand understanding. A punch down is where you punch the cap of a fermenting batch of grapes to pull the color and flavors out, move yeasts back down into the wine must, and prevent potential bacteria from growing on the exposed top layer. These grapes had already sat in a cold soak for four to five days, a process where winemakers gauge sugar and future alcohol levels. After the cold room, the white grapes head to a big press and are crushed into juice before fermentation. Red grapes are a little more complicated. To put it simply, they are first fermented with the skins on then pressed and the juice goes through a secondary fermentation before going into barrels to age.