By Mark Wineka
GRANITE QUARRY ó When you talk about beginning the wine-making process, it’s hard not to think about comedienne Lucille Ball, stomping back and forth and sinking just as often in a vineyard’s tub of grapes.
Thankfully, no one had to take off their shoes and climb into a tub of newly harvested grapes Saturday at the Old Stone Winery on U.S. 52.
Owner Mark Brown relied instead on his Italian Della Toffola press to squeeze the juice out of seyval blanc grapes from Amie and Tommy Baudoin’s 7-acre vineyard.
It was Brown’s first crush of the season ó he considered it a tuneup of sorts ó and it was the first of a half-dozen different varieties of grapes the Baudoins plan to harvest and bring to Brown.
They’re glad to have that option. Last year, the Baudoins trucked their grapes to wineries in Stanly, Yadkin and Stokes counties. Brown’s operation is much more convenient, only 11 miles from their Stokes Ferry Road vineyard.
The couple guessed that when all their Seyval Blanc grapes were weighed Saturday, the small harvest would amount to about 2.5 tons, or a couple hundred gallons of juice.
An April cold spell severely cut into the their whole vineyard’s production this year, but the upside is that the grapes that have survived are of top quality.
Brown agreed. He liked the sugar content, pH level and acidity he was measuring in the grape juice Saturday as the press went to work.
When the first juice flowed into the pan underneath the press before being pumped through hoses to a storage tank, Brown checked its sugar content. A reading of 22.5 brix would translate to a 12 percent alcohol content ó the optimal range.
“We’re right at it,” Brown said.
Brown gave the sweet-tasting Seyval Blanc grapes special treatment Saturday. He first chilled them to 55 degrees and applied an enzyme to help break down the grapes’ cellular walls, allowing for a better press.
He also bypassed the machine that first crushes and destems the grapes and went directly to the press, dumping them in by entire clusters.
The grapes arrived in plastic bins, each of which were weighed before going toward the press.
Brown received help in the loading process from his mother, Barbara, and friends and employees including Bryant Waller, Marshall Culp, Esequiel Martinez, Jonathan Bolick and Jennifer Sides.
The crew was able to load about 18 bins into the press before it was full and the first squeeze began. The stainless steel press is a rotating drum with a bladder inside. As the bladder inflates, it presses the grapes against the side of the drum and squeezes out the juice in the process.
Waller described it as a “tumble, mash it, tumble, mash it” procedure.
Brown said he was pressing “real light” in hopes of getting an even better quality juice. The first load took 45 minutes to an hour to press.
The juice tasted so good and sweet coming out of the press that some of the bystanders asked why Brown would even go to the trouble of fermenting it for wine.
The stainless steel storage tank into which the juice was pumped also was chilled to 55 degrees. The juice will cold settle. Racking will get rid of the sediment. Oxygen is kept out of the tanks, yeast is introduced and the fermentation process begins.
After a couple of months, Brown expects he will transfer the seyval blanc to oak barrels for aging. Filtering, stabilizing, blending also will be parts of the process before bottling.
Seyval Blanc grapes are meant to be taken as a young wine, so there’s a good chance the wine from Saturday’s juice could be bottled and on shelves sometime next year, “maybe about this time,” Brown predicted.
Brown saw Saturday’s pressing of grapes as a warmup because he’ll have 35 tons of muscadines coming from his own vineyard in coming weeks.
Old Stone Winery invited the public to see the season’s first crush, and Ann and Ed Foil, retired teachers from Mocksville, traveled with their daughter, Allison, to see the process.
Allison Foil, had motored up from Atlanta for a family reunion. She previously lived and work in Sacremento,, Calif., for about two years and was interested in seeing Carolina wineries, such as Brown’s.
Napa Valley, the California wine region, is crowded with tourists and highly commercial, “and they’re not really as friendly,” Allison said.
In California, Allison saw wine being bottled, but she ever witnessed the pressing of grapes on the front end of the process. But does she consider herself a wine snob?
No, Allison said, “but I met a lot in California.”
The Foils had a general idea of what to expect with Saturday’s crush at the Old Stone Winery.
“We didn’t think Lucy would be here,”‘ Ann Foil confirmed.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka