Stomping Grapes and Sulfite-Free Wine

Week 2 at Brunnenburg Castle – Traditional Alpine Farming

(Approximately 4 minute read)

You are washing the dishes. Inevitably you accidentally hit the spoon at just the wrong angle. Suddenly you’re blasted with a water cannon and left soaking wet at the sink. That was Week 1 on the farm. Except replace your spoon with industrial-sized buckets and ramp up the water pressure. Cleaning and preparing for wine making was messy work, but necessary for the week to come. (There was also getting situated at this fairy-tale-like-castle farm last week, including a little raspberry maintenance as well as pear, apple, and grape harvesting).

This week, we got to processing some of what we harvested. The curious among us were all wondering, at Brunnenburg, will we be stomping the grapes by foot? I am pleased to report, things have become more hygienic since I Love Lucy.

Before wine-making, the farm required some attention elsewhere. The day started with tending to the vegetable garden. Watering the peppers, zucchini, and greens. I found it charming to see exactly where our lunch ingredients were grown and I also was baffled at how I can’t tell a weed from an herb. I asked a lot of questions to make sure I was plucking out the right stuff.

We also did some quick hay flipping to help it dry without molding. After we toppled half of this six-foot high pile, I was startled by this surprise guest crawling out of the back (Hi, Otis!).

Then work with the wine began! In addition to the sauvignon gris and the gold muskateller, we worked with a third funghi resistant variety: muskara. Nik the Farmer tested each batch of the harvest for sugar content and was pleasantly surprised that the muskateller had high sugar levels, despite us harvesting a little bit early for that variety.

Once the grapes were approved, I had no expectations or clue about what the next step would be (Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do). But tucked away in the stone cellar, near giant tanks of wine, there was a shiny machine resting on an old work platform. We carried it out and balanced it on top of one of the giant plastic vats. There, I got to examine this small electric de-stemming machine from the Zambelli (not to be confused with Zamboni) company.

The grapes were put through two processes. The top hopper removed the grapes from the stem, the second chopped the grapes. The stems were spit out into a side bucket, like a Dr. Seuss invention, while the split-grapes snowed down into the 500L tub.

After the grapes were removed from the stem and chopped, a second small machine was employed. This one used water to pressurize a rubber bladder. As the bladder expanded it pressed the grapes against the filtered outer cylinder and the juice dripped down into a collection bucket. In this zero waste process, the stems and grape skins are all composted on site for future soil.

The grape juice is then given time to settle, and moved into a new barrel. This process is called racking and removes sedimentation build up. A sulfite and dried yeast is added next. The explanation of this process shocked me: Sulfite free wine is a myth. Natural sulfites are produced during the fermentation process and added sulfites, even in organic small-farm wines, preserve freshness, protect from oxidation, and help to avoid unwanted bacteria and yeasts. And it’s probably not causing our headaches based on how much is in other foods: “products like dried fruit, which have around 3500 PPM, compared to wine, which averages around 80 PPM and by law cannot exceed 350 PPM (Bon Appétit)”

After the grapes, we shifted gears to processing the apples and pears. The task was repetitive. Chopping and destemming, and then pushing them through a small grinding machine. This one used to be a hand-crank, but with a DIY project, a small motor was added to ease the workload. After being ground into smaller chunks, the apple and pear blend was put through the same squishing machine as the grapes.

Despite having potential in its repetition, I was unable to find my Zen through this task. Instead I was tormented by the buzzing of bees on and all around us. I know bees are our friends; that they are critical to the ecosystem and to food production; but no matter how hard I tried to be unbothered, I squirmed and jumped like an elephant seeing a mouse. I was tense for hours chopping and prepping pear juice and my clenched shoulders left me exhausted after this day of work.

There was an immediate reward, however, with taste-testing of the pear juice. The process resulted in an astoundingly bright colored drink which was delicious and flavorful. The juice was then heated to pasteurize before bottling.

The day was also marked by a very strict new supervisor. The weight of eyes on my back was heavy throughout the day, no matter where I went, he was watching.

When I was asked to lure the goat beyond a gate (back to his normal territory) with a leafy green, he bested me, snagging the leaves before I had him all the way into the gate!

The final task of the day was harvest preparation for freezing. I’ve never really thought much about the preservation of fruits and veggies. Yet another question I never thought to ask, given how readily accessible things are at the supermarket. It was illuminating to see another important part of the farm-to-table process. The pears and prunes were de-pitted and frozen on flat trays (so that they don’t stick together) before being reorganized into more freezer-packable bags. And a raspberry on top: I got some homemade jam as a take-home gift.

Hey there!

I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.

More About Me

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