Do you remember the first day of high school feeling? Excited to leap through the hallways passing the big bad seniors but also incredibly nervous as to where you might sit in the lunchroom during 5th period?
FIRST DAY KIND OF NERVES
That is exactly how I felt the first day Lindsay and I walked into the Murphy-Goode Winery ready to start our year-long journey as A Really Goode Job winners! It was a perfect blend of nerves and excitement, thinking that we had so much to learn and knowing that we did not prepare nearly enough for this moment. Although to be fair, preparation included reading about wine, drinking wine, and watching documentaries that had tripped our passion to apply for this opportunity in the first place. Much like all things in the world, words on pages can only prepare you so much than experiencing it with your own eyes.
My mom has always taught me that nerves are a good thing. They show us that whatever we are about to do or say means an incredible deal to us to succeed. This statement could not have been truer for my first day. I had just quit my corporate job, moved my entire life across the country on a promise of a dream job in wine country…all in 3 weeks' time. I was about to be a part of the 2021 Murphy-Goode harvest! It dawned on me that I am now engrained in the Murphy-Goode legacy for crafting amazing wine and this is not something to be taken lightly.
The Winery's most important time of year
For further context on the gravity of how important this time in the cellar is, harvest is the absolute heartbeat of the brand. It occurs once a year around September and is planned for the entire year. Winemaker Dave and his team have organized charts, logistics, graphs, spreadsheets all to choreograph this intricate ballet of receiving grapes from vineyards all over California and transferring them into proper tanks at the cellar for fermentation. Extra help is always needed at the winery during this time as it is a 24/7 operation. I feel incredibly grateful to Dave and all the cellar workers for taking time out of their super busy days to give us this hands-on experience.
First, a Lesson on Safety
Our first adventure in the winery was safety training! This was not the most glamourous portion of the cellar but incredibly important and something I really hadn’t taken note of with all my reading of the winemaking process. Making wine includes numerous amounts of equipment for pressing grapes, forklifts for transporting, chemicals to sanitize tanks, and endless tools to ensure this process runs smoothly. It was important we knew how to use, handle, and be around this type of equipment before we started.
Crushing the Grapes
We started our winery experience at the Crush Pad aka where grapes are initially received after being harvested from the vine. The first grape up to be picked and pressed was chardonnay. The chardonnay grape arrived in huge bins on top of an 18-wheeler truck. Being an engineer, I am really drawn to big mechanical industrial equipment and how to use it! I immediately wanted to learn how to operate the 7-ton lift that tips the bins of grapes into the auger for transport to the press. Luckily, we had some amazing cellar operators that were willing to let the newbie try her hand at tipping this bin. By day two, I was operating that lift like a pro and giving the hardworking cellar guys a chance to breathe during the crazy time that is harvest.
Once grapes are through the auger and into cylindrical containers, it’s time to commence the pressing of juice. Grapes rotate inside the press until the juice is fully released. The pure liquid gold is then sent into tanks to continue its journey to becoming wine. To transport this juice, we must physically hook up long hoses from one tank to another and attach them with hose clamps. We quickly learned the ability to hose clamp with only one hand because a lot of the time that’s really all you have free to get the job done.
After a week of so of working the Crush Pad, we moved on to tending to the juice as it ferments. This meant inoculating tanks with nutrients and yeast to ensure fermentation was occurring and collecting constant samples for the lab to test various process levels such as Brix (aka sugar) or alcohol level. Lindsay and I took extensive notes with pictures and diagrams to remember the inoculation process of hooking up pumps and hoses correctly. Of course, this kind of process only comes with practice to which we had a lot of throughout our time in the cellar.
My Favorite Part of Harvest
One of my absolute favorite parts of working in the cellar was touring around with Dave and tasting all the various stages of fermentation. Every day Dave and his team of expert palates tasted through tanks to ensure the fermentation process was going smoothly. I was impressed with the way Dave could tell what a wine needed just by tasting a few ounces and swishing it around. Immediately he knew how many days fermentation had been occurring, how long it needed to complete, what flavors we could expect, and how to ensure he was getting what we wanted out of the juice. I feel like my palate grew exponentially on these tasting trips with Dave!
A Lesson in Wine Chemistry
Another job we had the chance to experience within the cellar was working inside the lab. The lab was run by three powerhouse women who knew that winemaking is as much a science as it is in art. In its most simplistic form, the process of wine is a chemical equation where Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol & Carbon Dioxide. It was in the lab that we started to learn WHY we were doing things in the cellar as opposed to HOW to do them. The lab was a fascinating place, and we spent a good two weeks shadowing the ladies of the lab and learning all the tests we must complete to be sure quality and taste are the highest priorities.
A lesson in Cellar work
Once fermentation is complete for red grapes, we do something called drain and press where we drain the juice from the grapes and press out anything that might be remaining inside the skins. During the process, someone must climb into the tanks and shovel out the grape skins into a bin to be transported to the press. Now this was the thing I was most looking forward to in working in the cellar and it certainly delivered!
Wiggling your way into a tank and sliding around on the stainless steel bottom while dumping out tons of grape skins through a tiny hole was definitely hard work but super fun! Lindsay and I would have competitions with the cellar guys on who can clear a tank the fastest and talk the most smack to each other. We may have won the trash talking bit but were brutally beat for our efficiency.
Kickstarting this adventure by spending two months in the cellar during harvest was the perfect way for us to learn the winemaking process. You can listen and read about harvest all you want but until your hands are temporarily stained red from barrel downs, and you have unexpected muscles popping up from digging out tanks, you can’t truly appreciate all that is winemaking!