WHERE was all this leading? I desperately wanted to know. I had been totally sceptical about our chances of success and the big question remained: at the end of the day were we simply going to end up with mediocre plonk that we would have to dispose of wholesale, and not even cover our investment?  By now this was considerable, having built and equipped a complete winery. Mira drove the project on, pointing out we had no other choice, there was no turning back, etc. etc. Ever the optimist.  There was nothing else for it but to join Anelio in the winery and get on with it.


Cantinastrip3.jpg1. Yours Reluctantly, supervising the delivery of grapes fresh from the field. We carted in small loads at a time to avoid the fruit being mashed enroute, in which case the juice would oxidize and might set off spontaneous fermentation, which is most definitely not desired. They were tipped into a stainless steel hopper that contained an Archimedes' screw like a giant corkscrew to propel them along.

2. Anelio received the grapes which then started their journey into the de-stemmer/de-stalker. This had a cylinder with a slow-turning perforated sheath on the outside and a spindle running lengthwise through the middle with rubber-tipped paddles. These rotated at speed, knocking the grapes off the stalks and pushing them through the holes in the sheath and into a smaller hopper.

3. The stalks were too big to follow, but even if they wanted to, the centrifuge drove them out at the end of the machine, where they piled up in a heap — picked  clean, as if by mouth. Then Anelio and I took turns to pitchfork them into a wheelbarrow. In old days these would be scattered around the vineyards and ploughed back in as fertilizer. That is too labour-intensive, so today they get burned.

4.  The grapes and their sticky juice are now pumped into the huge stainless steel vats (we installed seven, each with a capacity of 10,000 litres or 13,500 bottles). Yeast is added to start the fermentation process. A dense cap of skins forms on top which has to be broken up regularly by  'pumping over': drawing off liquid from the bottom and taking it up three metres by hose to spray in a fast jet that bucked like a bronco.

5. This process lasted about three weeks, with hour-long sessions twice a day, sometimes using an open circuit (seen here) to aerate the wine. As the sugar content turned to alcohol the fumes made us giddy, and it was powerfully hot because CO2 was being released. We could not afford the cooling system used by the big wineries, so knew we were taking a risk. It's easy to end up with jam.

6. When it was time to pump out the wine and ease open the vat doors the quantity of glistening ruby skins was huge.  It all had to be shovelled out, dripping blood red — resourceful old Anelio fashioned a special wooden rake for the purpose —  then pumped into the wine press. We acquired a second-hand Vaslin machine, a famous French press that had seen decades of duty and resembled something from the Keystone Kops, but what it lacked in modern gadgetry it more than made up for in efficiency. 

7. The Vaslin had a huge horizontal rotating drum programmed like a washing machine with crush rather than spin. Hoops and chains and a central screw worked a concertina action on two metal plates at each end, drawing them to the centre to extrude the precious juice. Finally we transferred the best young wine into our oak casks for ageing, and put the regular wine back into the cleaned-up steel vats. Every so often the wine had to be racked  (transferred to clear lees and sediment) as it went through its second, malolactic, fermentation.

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