I recently read this post from wine searcher entitled “Every Winemaker’s Nightmare comes true.” The “Nightmare” mentioned was that someone slipped into the winery at night and opened the taps on 4 tanks which emptied them down the drain. Honestly, this is pretty far down on my “nightmare” list. So that got me thinking, what IS on a winemaker’s nightmare list?
Someone getting hurt
This is my top one. As a winemaker you rely on your vineyard and cellar team everyday. While we try to keep everyone as safe as possible there are significant risks in our industry. My biggest fear is CO2. We generate a ton of it during fermentations. It is invisible, heavy, and you don’t see it coming until it hits you. Anyone who has had the breath knocked out of them from CO2 has a healthy respect for it. Every time I see a picture somewhere of some person standing over an open top fermentor on a board punching down I cringe. I cringe just thinking about it. It’s so stupid and dangerous! Likewise for vineyard and winery equipment. Tractors and forklifts, occasionally mixed with dimly lit vineyards and parking lots during harvest when everyone is working all the time do not make for ideal conditions. High Vis colors and vests are a must! Seriously, this is top of mind for me at all times. You have to keep your crew safe!
Microbes and Fruit Flies
Brett, Acetobacter, and film yeasts. Malolactic bacteria in a crisp white. That weird ropy stuff which is totally disgusting. The Fruit flies which carry all the nasty things I listed above around the winery. Now I am not a germ-phobe. These things exist and that is ok. My fear lies in not knowing where they are. If you have contamination (and unless you have a completely new winery that has never seen a grape, you do), knowing where it is located is the first line of defense. My fear is that there are places of contamination that I don’t know about so each new find is a small victory. If you know where it is, you can take action to control it.
People Who Don’t Know How to Open Sparkling Wine Bottles Safely
This loosely ties into the safety section above but when you add more than 6 atmospheres of pressure held together by glass and a potential projectile plus a cavalier attitude, things can go south quickly. Maybe it is because in my days of sparkling winemaking, I had so many bottles blow out their corks rapidly once you loosened the cage. Maybe it is because when you are bottling sparkling wine from a Charmat tank you occasional find a weak bottle and it explodes sending everyone into a “hit the deck” type reaction. Magnums were particularly loud and tended to take out the bottles next to them as well leading to explosions in rapid succession. Safety glasses are a must in that situation. Anyway, back to random people opening sparkling wine bottles. Most of the time people assume you need to remove the cage from the bottle to open it. Not so. As soon as you loosen the cage, you just took the safety off and it should be treated with respect and care. Always properly chill the wine before opening. Gently unscrew the wire and loosen the cage with your other hand and preferably a napkin holding the top of the cage. At that point, you begin to slowly twist the bottom of the bottle while holding the cork AND the cage together at the top. The cork should slowly push out from the pressure behind it with a quiet “Piffffff” not a loud POP! Please do not wave around an uncaged bottle with a cork and, for goodness sakes, do not point it at other people or breakable objects!
Your dream starts like this. You’ve just completed a masterpiece blend. You and your colleagues taste it and all agree that it is the best wine that you all have ever been involved in. The excitement is palpable. Maybe it’s received one of those super high pre-bottling range scores from a well known critic (95-98 anyone?). Maybe it’s going to shoot sales into the stratosphere? Maybe it will sell out in 1 week all to your wine club?
Mabye….? Oh wait, your cellar comes to say they actually just blended a key component of your amazing, earth shattering blend, into another variety from a completely different blend, maybe even from a completely different appellation rendering both components next to useless.
Maybe you’ve gotten the blend together successfully but someone in your cellar has been storing the transfer hoses next to a cooling tower that has Bromine in it for sanitation and your entire blend gets contaminated by TBA (similar smell to TCA “cork” taint) on it’s way to the bottling line.
And you wake up and breathe a sigh of relief that it was only a nightmare.
Earthquake anyone? This is a double worry with people getting hurt and your winery falling apart all at the same time. Losing wine? Lowest priority at that point.
Polar Vortex? If you are in New York, as I am now, the winter lows are dropping dangerously close to the bud kill point for your varieties. This can lead to reduced crops at best and dead vines at worst some of which may not show up until the following summer due to damaged vascular systems which are no longer able to pull enough water to sustain healthy growth.
Hurricanes during harvest? Nothing is guaranteed to turn healthy grapes to mush faster than driving wind and 12 inches of rain over a 48 hour period. Trust me.
Oh yeah that. Occasionally ( and I do mean occasionally) once or twice a year the thought of vandalism crosses my mind but not until after all of the above things have been mentally chewed over multiple times. Honestly, it’s just wine. It can be replaced. That’s why you have insurance. Of all of them, this is probably the easiest to deal with because it is the least likely to happen particularly if you take precautions such as proper security measures. This is really not very high on my list at all and if I was writing this without the inspiration from the post linked above, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to include it. Just goes to show how a great headline can grab your attention.