The 2011 vintage entered Boxwood's chai the day after harvest began. The wines are made in the chai; "chai" is an ancient term, used regularly in winery parlance, to address an above-ground wine-making room.
To the left above is the gravity feeder. Hand-sorted grapes, only those deemed superior and worthy for premiere Boxwood wines are wheeled in a stainless steel cart from the press pad to the chai. The gravity feeder has a lift for the cart bin which raises each small bit of grapes to the top of the feeder and pushes them out onto the top of a stainless tray-table above the tank.
From the tray table, the grapes are pulled by hand through the round opening at the lower left of the photograph above, where they will fall gently into the tank below.
The tank above is not full' the level of the grapes is crucial to the quality of the wine, too much or too little changes the extraction and conversion potential of the product in the tank. Grapes continue to be loaded to the tank until it is nearly brimming.
There it is: A full and ready tank of destemmed "whole berries" as we say, grapes - in other words. At Boxwood, we do not use a crusher in wine-making. In this way, we retain the fruit-full aromatics of the grapes in our wines. This will be critical far later on when you drink Boxwood wines and tell us you love the fruit character of the bouquet.
Although grapes are encased in yeast naturally - it is the grey film on the surface of the fruit above - the naturally occuring yeasts will not be reliable enough for making quality wines. Before the tank lid is closed and primary fermentation and maceration begin, Adam will "feed" the grapes and add yeast to the tank. The cover will be closed and then we wait.
Adam monitors the tanks' progress and generally three days later, the cover is pulled and the punch- downs begin.
With regard to punch down: Before you think this might be a great adventure for which to volunteer at a winery be cautioned that you must be sure-footed, unafraid of heights, posses freakish natural strength, and be relativly certain of your ability to swim. We have a staff brimming with these talents; that is not luck, that is good interviewing.
Now then, Adam climbs from over the catwalk above the tank in question, places his rubber slip-proof wine-making boots on either side of the tank opening, and proceeds to "punch down" the fruit and skin "cap" which forms on top of the juice.
This is where super human strength comes in handy: Every year at this time, watching Adam and Rachel punch down 700 gallon tanks is awe-inspiring. More so, considering their thin, bean-pole builds.
It takes time, patience, and fortitude. The punch downs continue daily until the end of the fermentation and maceration process; Depending on the varietal, anywhere from twenty to twenty-four days and occur around the clock.
There will be exhaustion, sleep deprivation, concerning levels of caffeine consumption, gravely beards, messy clothes, and a good deal of grunting.
That is how we know all is well in the chai.
Next we will "pump over" the 2011 vintage. Stay tuned.