I had the terrific help of one of my peers as I learned the details of our process and procedure for punching down the Syrah this morning: thanks Sean! We have to do this four times a day right now to keep the skins wet so they continue to contribute color, aroma and mouthfeel to the wine. This will be a really deep purple wine, like stain-your-teeth kind of color, as we have another ten days or so before we will press it off.
Knowing where to find everything and in what order to use it is important as you want to be sure it is clean and at hand when you need it. We couldn’t find a ladder for several minutes, but it wasn’t where it is typically kept, instead it was behind a locked door. I cleaned the punch down tool and laid it across the stainless bin while we took the initial temperature reading and determined where the hydrometer was in the lab.
To execute the punch down: climb the ladder high enough to have leverage to push down into the bin, grasping the two handles of the tool you push into the must, breaking into the semi-dry skins and pushing them down into the juice, working in a grid pattern push all of the cap into the juice until the whole cap has been submerged. As the fermentation speeds up there will be lots of bubbles to indicate the release of gasses that were under the cap, but right now we are just getting things going.
Carefully skimming juice with as little solid material as possible from the bin gives us a sample to test Brix with. Brix is the percentage of sugar in a liquid measured in terms of degrees. The hydrometer is a weighted, calibrated gauge with multiple scales on it, one of which is typically Brix. The more sugar in the aqueous solution the higher the hydrometer floats in the cylinder. Yeast consumes the sugar, turning it into alcohol (ethanol) so your hydrometer will drop further into the solution as this conversion takes place.
Since we have tow containers, the stainless steel and a poly tank, we have to take temperature readings before hand, punch down two caps, measure for Brix in both containers and again determine the temperature of the solution. The temperature at the surface of the must is not the same as it is in the rest of the bin, so taking a second reading after mixing it all up provides a better idea of average temperature of the must.
Once done, we clean everything we use and put it away. I have to make sure to soak my shirt as I ended up with several purple splotches on it.
We did get our four punch downs in today, pretty close together, but done. For the remaining days we need to punch down, the four of us have a better idea of who will take each part of the day so we can spread the work out over the day better and amongst all of us. Nice to work with a team so no one person has to shoulder the whole burden. This wine should be pressed off right about the time our Merlot grapes are slated to be ready to go.