Winemaking behind the scenes – visits to Wilson Creek and 2Planks Vineyards

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As much as I love the finished product, I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the winemaking process this past month. 

Clockwise from upper left: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine; ready for the crusher/de-stemmer; three barrel samples: Grenache, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc; and the barrel room - a great place to learn about wine and take an exam with a slight buzz.

Clockwise from upper left: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine; ready for the crusher/de-stemmer; three barrel samples: Grenache, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc; and the barrel room – a great place to learn about wine and take an exam with a slight buzz.

First up I had a two-day class (on consecutive Saturdays) at Wilson Creek Winery – part of the SDSU Extended Studies program I’m enrolled in. To start our first class, instructor Gus Vizgirda led us through the vineyards talking about the grapes, vines, irrigation, pest control and other vineyard management aspects. Of course, it was a boiling 93 degrees in Temecula that day so we spent the next several hours in the tank room. During both sessions, Vizgirda talked us through the fermentation process and answered our eager questions about everything from yeast selection to fining agents to “Can we try that Petite Sirah now?”

Vizgirda also gave us an in-depth handout that mirrored the subjects we covered in class. Plus we got to use it on our 50-question exam which I’m sure I aced. 😉

Soon after completing that class, I was invited by assistant winemaker Mike Szymczak (I’m glad I’m not the only one around here with an odd last name) to come visit 2Plank Vineyards – a San Diego urban winery – during “crush” time.

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Barrels at 2Plank

I had visited 2Plank’s tasting room in August where I found lots of tasty wines, especially their Chardonnay (not too heavy with lots of fruit flavors to balance the oak), 2013 Zinfandel (luscious and jammy – the 2011 was a little “green” tasting to me) and Cabernet Franc (heavy smoke flavors but smooth finish.) And we took home their Solstice 2013 late harvest Viognier- a dreamy dessert.

This time I got to see where those yummy wines came from. The impressive operation at 2Plank takes place in the warehouse just behind/beneath their tasting room. In just a few hours I watched as Szymczak moved around tons of equipment in a limited area (they’ll soon move production to Vista), transfer various wines into barrels and tanks and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t totally understand.

I'm a natural, right?

I’m a natural, right?

I also got to help the winemakers with “punch downs.” As you can (hopefully) see in the pictures, the grapes, skins, seeds, etc in the containers of fermenting juice rise to the top. This “cap” needs to be “punched down” in order to keep all the tasty flavors in those grape products in contact with the juice. Apparently this happens about three times a day and they were working on over 20 containers when I was there. I made it through like two and a half punch downs. My workout for the day.

Szymczak along with owner/winemaker Jason Wimp both told me how excited the are for these new wines. They’re trying some varietals they haven’t before and seem pleased with the fruit they got this year from Amador County, Fallbrook and even from Temecula (a little Mourvèdre for blending). Though this year’s yields were down, the flavors are concentrated and on point, according to Wimp. He’s predicting good things for the 2015 vintage.

(left) Someone stronger than me punches down some Merlot - see all the bubbling fermentation? (right) Mourvèdre at the end of fermentation.

(left) Someone stronger than me punches down some Merlot – see all the bubbling fermentation? (right) Mourvèdre at the end of fermentation.

After smelling (and tasting) the fermenting juice/wine and seeing this complex beautiful process at both of these wineries, I rushed home to drink a glass (or three) and I’ll definitely be back in 2Plank’s tasting room as soon as I can (6242 Ferris Square, Sorrento Valley).

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