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Stems, leaves, seeds, shot berries, and other material end up in a dump truck to be later composted.

Stems, leaves, seeds, shot berries, and other material end up in a dump truck to be later composted.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery’s Joshua Maloney says they are already seeing quality differences in their wine since upgrades were made to the red wine grape crush pad at the Canoe Ridge Estate ­winery last year.

Perhaps the only positive thing that came out of the freeze occurring on October 11, 2009, in Washington State, was the chance to compare wine produced identically except for handling and destemming before fermentation, said Maloney, red winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The Canoe Ridge facility, with the receiving facility upgrade in place for the 2009 crush, was receiving loads around the clock in anticipation of last year’s freeze, he said. “We had to send a couple of loads from the same vineyard, same block, to our sister winery, Snoqualmie Vineyards in Prosser, for processing because we were too backed up. The grapes sent to Snoqualmie had the same everything as our wine at Canoe Ridge—our yeast, our pumpovers—with the fermented wines shipped back here for our winemaking.” The only difference was how the grapes were handled during crush.

As the wines were being sampled over the next six months to a year, Maloney said there was a noticeable difference between the two wines. The wine crushed by Snoqualmie was rich and nice, he said, “but had a little edge to it.” The Canoe Ridge wine had amazing softness. “You could almost taste the things that the system (Canoe Ridge receiving facility) was taking out.”

He adds that the tannins seem to be softening and evolving more quickly than in the wines they’ve produced in the past. The wines processed by the new system have as much weight, viscosity, and texture, but they are softer and more approachable. “They will still age a long time, but I think the window for drinkability will now be longer.”

The freeze gave him the serendipitous opportunity to evaluate the importance of removing MOG (material other than grape) and keeping berries whole for red wine fermentation and their effect on tannins. Maloney said the freeze reaffirmed that the crush pad upgrade will help them improve wine quality.

“The proof is in the glass, as they say.”