Thursday, 16 January 2014

A Hive of Activity

Today, I arrived at work to an atmosphere of organised chaos.  News was just in that harvesting is going to start early.  And not just slightly early - this is to be the earliest start to the vintage in recent memory!  I had discussed in a previous post that vintage kicks off earlier every year, but no one was expecting this many grapes so soon.

The first grapes are to arrive at the winery on Sunday night, thus there was really only today (Thursday) and tomorrow to get all the preparation done that is usually completed over most of next week.  So there was definitely no time to ease us 'newbies' into the work - it was straight into the deep end.  

Six of us were assigned the task of cleaning and sanitising tanks, ready to accept freshly crushed and pressed grape juice.  Cleaning a tank might sound pretty simple, but the tanks are definitely not small (approximately 25,000L each), there are about 16 in each room and there are 5 rooms of them.  The reason this is so important is to prevent bacterial and fungal spoilage of the any grape juice or wine stored in the tanks.

Tank cleaning is a serious business, because you use significant amounts of caustic soda (NaOH), which is highly corrosive to both skin and lungs.  For this reason, it is necessary to be fully kitted out in personal protective equipment (PPE), as demonstrated in the simply stunning photo of me below, where I am pouring caustic acid into hot water, ready to pump into a tank.

The reason caustic soda is used is because of its strength and therefore capacity to dissolve hard 'tartrates' which dissolve out of the wine solution and build up on the walls of the tank.  Once you have pumped a mix of caustic soda and boiling water through the whole tank (takes about 20min if the tank is fairly clean, but up to a few hours if it's filthy), then you have to also pump citric acid through to neutralise the strong base.  So it's a time consuming, but very necessary step in the preparation of a winery for vintage.

It may sound boring, but it was really great to get right in the midst of everything and start preparing for what lies ahead next week.