Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Joys of Food Processing

Well we got off to a bit of a rocky start, and for anyone who has worked in agricultural food processing (cannery, fishery, brewery, winery, etc.) knows that when the green light is lit, something goes wrong or breaks. I remember back in my days as a QA Tech for Norpac Foods, I would ask the line mechanic why my line wasn't running.

"The sealers too hot and is melting the packaging", he would say. "We just got started", I would say.

Well, all of those memories came rushing back last night.

Our first hiccup was on I-90 East just about 8 miles before Cle Elum, where two lanes converged to one...parking lot. We lost about an hour of time, but no big deal, we have time. We get to the winery at 6pm and I start setting up shop. Buckets, crusher, bins, hose, personnel..check. I direct a bit of traffic, tell everyone their duties and lets start tossing grapes in the crusher.

I hit the green button and immediately something is not right, but I did not see it at first. Three people are tossing grapes in the hopper, but nothing is coming out. Hold it! Hold it! Hold it! WTF? Yup, the crusher broke..sort of. It appears that one of the gears slipped out of position. After a bit of inspection and cursing, I start to wrench on it and take the machine apart.

Ok, problem fixed and machine back together..we lost about 20 min no big deal, it is only 6:45pm. "OK..everyone ready?" Green button..go! The crusher whirred and juice and skins started to flow...for about 5 seconds. Hold it! (more cursing).. take it apart again.

We noticed that there was some other loose bolts that were sliding the rollers our of position during the force and weight of the grape clusters, I cranked them down, and put everything back together.

Now, it is getting dark and a bit after 7pm. I get some cheer leading from the group and we press on. Guess what? held.

We finished 3000 lbs of grapes in about an hour and a half. We cleaned up a bit, moved the fermentation bins from the crush pad to the winery, and I checked the must and added enzymes and 50ppm SO2, took a shower, and hit bed by 11:30 pm.


5000 lbs more to go next week.

Thanx for the help Ben, Tara and Heather..oh and little Ava who helped with her plastic wrench and hammer.

Dude, Miners.. Union Gap

My buddy Ben from Walla Walla, who lives here in Seattle, came with me to Zilah to pick up 1.5T of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. He suggested that we stop for lunch at Miners in Union Gap. I am like "ok"..and he is like.."you have not been to Miners"?!?

I ordered a double Miner burger with everything on it plus bacon, strawberry shake and seasoned curlys..16 bux. umm... I am still full 24 hours later and after working my ass-off loading grapes, crushing, moving 1000 lbs bins around, get the point.

If you are on your way to WA wine country via MUST stop in and eat at Miners. Here is a link to a review site

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fermentation Bins Arrive

For those who are following my Oregon State bro brought up our Macrobin brand harvest/fermentation bins from McMinnville, OR. It just happened to be good luck that he wanted to come up to Washington and play golf with some of his co-workers and myself (his employer is headquartered in Puyallup). And I told him that I was planning on going down south to pick up the bins and he offered to bring them up here. Excellent timing!

Here is a pix...
Cedar River Cellars Fermentation bins

So these plastic bins are an inexpensive piece of equipment to harvest and transport our grapes. They are also a great way to open-top ferment small batches of red wine grapes...hell you could do white wine as well in these bins and sure shit I probably will. But the benefit is that you can easily manage the skins cap and work in small batches. Temperature control is tricky, but with our Northwest cool climate in the fall, it really is not that big of a problem.

Once fermentation is in play, I will cover the top of the bins lightly with some cheesecloth to let the CO2 gas to escape, but keep large air born debris form falling in.

That's it!!! We are on our way to harvest and crush next. Stay tuned.