Tin Barn Vineyards | Amy Tsaykel

First Crush

In Uncategorized on 09/19/2009 at 11:43 am
Mike Lancaster & intern Creighton Brown hard at work

Mike Lancaster & winemaking intern Creighton Brown hard at work

Just as milk doesn’t come from the grocery store (as many kids are apt to think) wine sure as heck doesn’t come from the bottle. Its process is an artisanal one, challenging practitioners to engage not just in rote manufacturing, but in true craft. Here at Tin Barn Vineyards, I’ve watched as winemaker Mike Lancaster and his assistant Creighton Brown have begun making the first wines of the 2009 vintage.

As a newbie to the process, I’ve wanted to observe every stage. The action began early last week, when Mike brought a plastic bag full of pinot noir grapes from our grower at Ricci Vineyards. with beakers and gadgets in hand, he asked me to follow him into the kitchen.

After crudely squashing the grapes and draining the cloudy, purply-brown juice into the beakers, we each took a taste–like Holy Communion, only superfresh and yummy. Then Mike broke out his refractometer to measure the sugar, or brix. Based on the numbers, he said, they’d be ready for harvest within three days.  

Really? I wondered, Harvest is scheduled down to the very day!? Yep.

On the day of the crush, I arrived at the cellar early in the morning. Within minutes, a truck arrived carrying two tons of pinot noir grapes. Creighton hopped onto the forklift and  began hauling them over to the stainless steel hopper poised above the crusher. In a matter of moments, the action began.

As machine separated out the rachis with its giant auger and pulpy juice flowed below, Mike occasionally sauntered over to toss in a handful of mysterious substance, including enzymes to draw the color out of the skin and dry ice to keep everything nice and cool.


Within half an hour, the entire load had been pressed. I admit it was much more orderly than what I’d anticipated. I was hardly expecting a barefoot grape-stomping frenzy, but the easygoing pace of the whole operation rather surprised me. Chalk it up to Mike’s style.

As I type this from the tasting toom, the doors are flung wide to the cellar, where Mike and Creighton are hosing down after yet another morning of crushing–this time, Sauvignon Blanc for one of our custom clients. It’s the ideal setting for a wine tasting, and the ideal place to learn as you drink…join us!

  1. The climate this year has been cooler than uaual, has the harvest time come sooner, I am not that familiar with the harvest times, but I know the regions in the Sonoma area are rated at at least 1-2-3-and maybe 4? Carnerous probably being in the 4 range?? Do you use the Stainless steal more for the white or the red?? And do you make your white with the oak chips, or wood chips I guess of choice, to speed the flavor up? I have worked, not on the wine but with the wines, St. Francis being one of my favorites, and Gundlach Bunschue. Both on the smaller side, even Raffenelli, especially back in 1989 era. Always seemed the smaller were the better. My guess would be it has probably been a better year for the lighter reds this year?? Or can you just use the dosage process to bring it up?? Is it the sweeter in the heat, or is it the more bitter like the Cabs that survive better in the cool, because the ripening process slows down??

  2. Even some Gallo places that were really fun and very pretty. McMurray Ranch being the really great place for large or small events. Especially the redwood area beside them. Beautiful place. I love vineyards, even in Hopland I used to work at Fetzer, I have been in the service area for a long period of time. Hospitality. I have seen some gorgeous locations, and some beautifull weddings. Wine I have learned about over the years, I think it is fun, all the little stuff about it. I really like the wine wheel as well, I think that’s a fun tool for people that are tasting.

  3. I used to wait on Mr. Rutherford in his older years…he was sweet. He would always come in and order a gosh it has been so long, 1/2 bottle, split?? Of his own wine, and sit enjoy the view and enjoy his lunch.

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