As grapes vibrate across the MOG separating table, seeds and shot berries fall through the screen. The bar in the front is a newly added air knife to remove light material as the grapes fall.
The relatively new processing station at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate winery—with its one-of-a kind system for removing material other than grape—has an impressive list of attributes. Unloading and receiving grapes is way faster, more material other than grape (known as MOG) is removed, and grapes are handled more gently. But the bottom line is that wine quality is improved, say Chateau Ste. Michelle winemakers.
The 2010 crush was the second season the processing station at the Canoe Ridge winery received grapes. The red-only winery, near Paterson, Washington, is where all red winemaking for Chateau Ste. Michelle takes place. Speed and scale are needed to process more than 8,000 tons of grapes during crush, most of it in a three-week period. Last year, the facility handled 8,300 tons, but the receiving facility could easily process double that if there were no limitations on fermentation tanks.
“It’s all about improving wine quality and that starts with how the grapes are processed,” Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery’s head winemaker Bob Berthau stated in an earlier news release. “It will have a huge impact on the quality of our red wines moving forward.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle red winemaker Joshua Maloney, who joined the Ste. Michelle winemaking team in 2005, said that one of the criticisms of their wines has been that the tannins were too abrasive. It’s a unique problem that he didn’t experience as a winemaker in California.
“Bob Berthau and I never saw tannins this big when we were in working in California. It was a shock to both of us, just how robust these wines can be,” said Maloney, adding that it was standard there to leave skins on the grapes for 21 days compared to 6 or 7 days in Washington. “It’s just night and day. The tannins we have in Washington are exceptional, but they’re also ample.”
The red winemaking team at Ste. Michelle has been zeroing in on techniques to soften the tannins during fermentation, weeding out the “bad” tannins. Maloney said they identified two things they believed would improve wine quality: increasing the amount of whole berries sent to fermentation; and removing additional MOG. “We wanted to get as much whole berry as we could. Cut marks on the skins are where some of the harsher tannins were coming from. The goal was to get fruit in the tank as gently as possible.”
They were getting about 20 percent whole berries and removing 1.5 percent of stems and other debris during the destemming process from a truckload (20 tons) of grapes “on a good day.” The destemmer was the only process they used to remove MOG. Maloney said that anyone who has chewed on the seeds from seeded table grapes knows what he is talking about. “This stuff