Hey everyone! Allow me to introduce myself: my name is McKenna and I’m the Assistant Winemaker here at Andrew Murray Vineyards. I first joined the team way back in 2013 as an intern and after travelling between New Zealand, Australia and Napa, I found my way back to Santa Ynez Valley in 2016 and was hired on as our Oenologist. Over my last 2 years here, I have spent a few shifts working behind our tasting room bar. I really enjoy it because it’s a great opportunity to be able to chat with our customers about the wines and even answer some of their questions. One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is: when harvest is over, what do you do? This inspired me to start a winery blog, so we on the production side can share more insight on the everyday happenings behind the scenes.
As you all know, harvest is our busiest time of year. And frankly, it’s the most exciting as well. Harvest on average spans from the beginning of September to mid-November. During these months we are up before the sun, working hard until past dark and yet, still feel invigorated for the next day’s work. Working a wine harvest has a magical energy to anyone who has experienced it. Every day is different and dynamic. Some mornings begin out in the vineyard, sampling grapes to test sugar and acid levels. Some start with punch downs in the cellar, fueled by pop music and lots of coffee. Others are spent processing fruit on the crush pad or working up a sweat by digging out tanks full of red grapes. So, lets circle back to the original question: what exactly are we doing when this magical time of year ends? As the long days shorten and the weekend shifts get fewer, we have the new tricky job of “finessing” the wines we just made. We must take all these literal “fruits of our labor” and turn them into delicious finessed wines that we can be proud of.
November-January: The catch-up phase
Our next step is to get caught up on all the winery work that has to be put on hold during harvest. In the cellar, we dive right in to maintenance mode: fixing any equipment that may have given out on us during harvest and checking inventory that may have depleted over the months. We clean all our fermenters, hoses, presses and tanks ensuring everything is spotless and sparkling before it gets put to bed until next year. In the lab, we are monitoring malolactic fermentations (the in process in winemaking in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid) as well as running analysis on all of our wines that have been aging during the harvest period. This time frame is much slower than any other time of the year and we all are grateful for some much-needed decompression before we kick off our bottling season.
February-June: Bottling and Blending mode
Every month, we do QC (quality control) checks on all our aging wines. We pull samples of each individual lot of wine we have in barrel or tank, run analysis on them (alcohol, acid levels, sulfur levels etc.) as well as taste them to see how they are progressing. We also take notes on each of the wines, making observations on their overall flavor profile, structure and aromatics. These monthly taste tests are very useful to us when it comes time for the blending and bottling processes. In the lab during the months of February to June, we are in a steady cycle of blending and bottling. Pulling from the tasting notes we made during our monthly QC checks, we set up small bench trial “mock” blends of our finished wines. The idea is that by trying a blend small scale in the lab, you can try a range of different blends without having to treat all your wine. This allows you to accurately determine the specific lots that will have the optimal impact on your final wine, allowing you to move forward and perform this process on your whole batch. Once we determine what blend we like the best, we relay our blending plan to our cellar team. The next steps are: forklifting the appropriate barrels out, pumping the wine in barrel to a tank to make a blend and lastly, filtering the blend to remove any remaining lees or sediment. Once we have our finished blend, we are ready to put the wine in bottle! Over the next 4 months, we will repeat this process for at least 20-25 different wines between our E11even and Andrew Murray label.
June and August: Harvest Prep
After we have put our wines are in bottle, we now must shift our attention towards harvest again. Wow, time flies! We will forklift out all our fermenters out of storage and give them a good scrub. We test all our equipment to make sure its running smoothly and order all the supplies we need for harvest (cleaning chemicals, lab equipment etc.). During this time, it’s also important for us to be out in the vineyards, monitoring each one of our blocks and watching their progress. This gives us a better estimate of when we can expect the grapes will be ready to be picked. Soon enough, we will start the harvest season all over again!
I hope that I could give a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of Andrew Murray Vineyards year-round. Of course, this was a very basic overview and our schedule can change at a moment’s notice! However, that’s the best part of our job! Working with a product that is influenced by mother nature means that you can’t stick to a formula or recipe. It can be stressful but also allows you to think on your feet and requires you to be dynamic. I love communicating with our customers and would love to be able to answer any questions in our future winery blogs so please email me at: McKenna at AndrewMurrayVineyards.com if you want to know more!