Nov 25, 2012

Posted by in Articles, Featured | 0 Comments

Straw Wine: Capitello Wines Adventure Continues

Ray Walsh harvests these Sauvignon Blanc grapes for the second time

When I heard Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines was going to be harvesting, for the second time, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes he’s using for the Pacific Northwests very first Straw Wine, I headed out to the winery to see the harvest in action.

Ray Walsh’s adventure in making Straw Wine, the first of it’s kind in Oregon, started back in September when he harvested beautifully juicy, ripe and clean Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Walnut Ridge Vineyard, located in the southern Willamette Valley. The harvested clusters of grapes were laid out on straw mats inside a winery that I frequently visit, and my curiosity prompted a call to Ray to find out what he was up to; thus, my first article and interview with Ray about his adventure with Straw Wine was published in mid-October, Straw Wine: A New Adventure for Capitello Wines.

Sauvignon Blanc clusters dried on straw mats vary in sweetness

One month after my initial interview with Ray, he was ready to harvest the dried, raisin-like grapes by removing them from the straw mats by hand, cluster by cluster, into a small presser – a time consuming, hands-on, tedious task. When I arrived at the winery, most of the palettes of grapes had been put into the presser, and just a small amount of juice, very high in brix (sugars), was slowly streaming out from the presser into a bucket. Some of the clusters on the mats were still slightly green in color, while others were brown, like raisins. Depending on where the grape clusters were placed on the mats, and depending on the amount of ventilation they received, the grapes either had extremely high brix (approximately 40 in the brown clusters) or lower brix (23-24 in the green clusters). While the brown, super-sweet grapes will provide the sweetness in the Straw Wine, the grapes with the lower brix will provide the acidity, which Ray hopes will create a well-balanced wine in the finished product.

A small basket press with a water-filled bladder gently presses the grapes

I watched closely as Ray inspected each cluster before tossing them into the small basket presser – where a thick, rubber bladder inside the basket slowly inflates with water and gently presses against the clusters, extracting what little bit of juice was inside of each grape. The bucket that was slowly filling with the juice from the grapes had a hydrometer floating in it. Winemakers use hydrometers to measure three things: specific gravity, potential alcohol, and sugar. The hydrometer Ray was using was not a typical hydrometer used in wineries, which normally only measures up to 23 or 24 brix. This particular hydrometer starts at 29 brix and goes up to 41, and was floating around 35.5 brix in the bucket – which is exactly where Ray was hoping the brix would be.

Hydrometer floats at 35.5 brix

“From the bucket, the juice will be put into a keg with some clay to help settle it, and within two days it will be clean juice, very clean juice. I’ll lose about 10% of the juice with this process, but it will be clean, clean juice – ready for fermentation.” Ray continued, “When it’s all said and done, it’s not going to be a lot. It will be bottled in small 375 ML bottles [750 ML is the average size of a bottle of wine]. Ferment could be a month or 5 months because there’s so much sugar, sometimes sugar will inhibit fermentation, so I’ll just keep checking it. Once it’s fermented it will go into the bottle and most likely be released by the spring of 2013.” 

Prices will tangibly reflect this wines uniqueness, limited production and labor intensive qualities, but I won’t be missing out on my chance to take home a bottle of the Northwests first Straw Wine come spring, 2013, and then I’ll tell you all about it.

I’ll be following Ray Walsh’s straw wine adventures on Eugene Daily News as well, follow me over for this and other great articles.