Guest Post by Eileen Lambert, The Latina Locavore
Charcuterie sampling early on a Saturday morning portends a day’s events. Darting to the deli at the Bainbridge Town & Country, I began to assemble my artisanal arsenal -meat, cheese, bread, fruit and pastry– covering a range of alimentary bases, to accompany the plentiful drink I would be partaking in (and taking part in making) later.
Reading over my fellow classmate’s emails the night before, one would think the potluck was the main event: Baguettes, Beecher, Mt Townsend Creamery, and brie cheeses, dry salami, garlic spreads, homemade heirloom tomato salad with pesto and cheese, smoked chicken salad, raw milk gruyere, crackers, and sliced finnochionia, a mix of oysters and some mignonette. (Damn these people know how to eat!)
And from the instructor: Lunch will be a sit down French Style affair with both red and white wine served on a long table.
Photographer Chris Laurion, and I had been invited to attend the Crush program and had caught the 9:35 a.m. ferry and were now blissfully sampling the house prosciutto in an island grocery store – not a bad way to spend a Saturday. As he consulted his iPhone for cheese pairings for Pinot Gris,(asiago a clear winner for me), I selected some ripe pears, a Macrina herbed baguette, and threw an apple caramel walnut tart in the basket before checking out.
Our destination was Rolling Bay Winery on Beach Crest Drive, where a truck containing several tons of Pinot Gris and Merlot grapes awaited us, as did the 11 other Crush class participants, winemaker Alphonse de Klerk and his cadre of winemaking friends, Bainbridge Island Parks and Rec Outdoor Programs Coordinator, Jeff Ozimek, and Sommelier David Morris.
When I first heard about this class from a fellow blogger, Leslie Seaton, its basis as a Parks and Rec outdoor program piqued my interest, and in talking with Jeff, found that its purpose was ‘to help build community by getting folks together who share similar interests and would like to learn more about the wonderful world of wine.’
The wine program was new, and the outdoor program would run three different classes/trips this fall as pilot programs with the goal to expand in the future. Ideally they’d like to offer overnight trips, wine and bike tours, wine making, and events featuring NW winemakers and grape growers. Their aim is to get people outdoors trying new things in an effort to build the community.
I couldn’t think of a better introduction to winemaking –a half day comprised of instruction with Alphonse covering wine chemistry, fermentation, sugar content, aging vessels, and more; hands- on crushing and pressing of Pinot Gris and pressing of fermented Merlot, a potluck lunch accompanied with Rolling Bay Wines, and finally, a blind tasting and sensory analysis led by Sommelier David Morris, featuring some of his choice bottles. After a brief overview of the fundamentals of winemaking -the chemistry involved, the inoculating of the yeast, the sending of samples to the lab for analysis, for both a chem panel and measurement of residual sugar, the adding of sulfites and nitrogen to keep the yeast going, and throughout, the ongoing tasting process, I learned that yeast are happy when well fed, and that wine goes through a lag period, followed by a period of exponential growth.
I learned descriptive wine terms like ‘punchdown’ – the process of breaking up and “punching down” the skin cap into the fermenting juices of red wine as well as ‘brix,’ –a unit of measurement for sugar content. I handled a hydrometer, an instrument when plunged into a vat of fermenting wine, indicates the sugar content by floating above the surface.
After the brief lecture portion, the eager students yearned for some practicum. We were assigned to different stations – 3 on the truck unloading the crates of grapes into buckets, 2 on the truck dumping the buckets into the crusher, 2 on the tub below filling buckets of crushed grapes and emptying them into the presser, and the rest taking turns at the presser and monitoring the bucket below as it filled with juice from the free-run, or the juice that freely flows as a result of gravity and weight pressing the crushed grapes downward.
After working for about a half hour, we rotated among the stations, so we each had a chance to experience the different tasks associated with the crush. It was laborious work, a lot of stooping, bending, and lifting, the kind of work that left you damp, sticky, and covered in grape skins–literally head to toe. But no complaints here.
See more photos here and come back next week for Part 2.