Sorting Table 101: Sorting Tables – The Buff Bouncers of Harvest

There are many players in the harvest game.  They take the forms of the hardworking men and women who wake up at the freaking crack of dawn (in truth, it is often well before dawn, try 3 AM…woof!) to get busy hand picking grapes when the temperature is just right, the weather (days that have preceded it and the conditions on that particular morning), and of course, the stars of the show, the grapes that have done the perfect amount of ripening to be plucked from their homes and whisked away to fulfill their lives’ purpose.  Beyond these three essential cogs in the harvest machine, there are many other crucial elements that help make harvest a success.  This year, we are particularly thankful for one of these…our sorting table.

My husband equates our sorting table to the buff bouncers who sit outside swanky Vegas nightclubs and refuse to let him in…not that he has ever tried to get in one of these clubs, or anything. ; )  In this particular analogy, Epoch would be the swanky nightclub, and because we only want the best of the best up in da club (duh!), we have to be picky about who we let in.  Enter buff sorting table.  Our sorting table helps us sort out the berries that will compromise quality from the best berries that get to enter and light up Club Epoch!  Because we always aim to make the best wine we can possibly make, we are forced to be super exclusive with our berries; our sorting table helps us achieve this elusive exclusivity.  #qualityoverquantity

Why are we particularly fond of our sorting table this harvest?  Well, this year, we had some crazy cool weather in the spring, just at the time our Syrah grapes were setting their fruit.  Apparently Syrah was not a fan of this cool weather, and as a result, did not set the normal number of berries per cluster, yielding small, light clusters.  This unusual setting behavior coupled with the fact that the vines were already producing less clusters per vine as a result of our current drought conditions, led to lower yields overall.  Before you jump to conclusions, low yield (small crop) is not a bad thing.  In fact, the lower the yield, the more concentrated the juice and flavors…and we want this.  Like so many moments in wine growing, we find ourselves realizing there are two sides to every coin, and what seems negative can also be a huge positive!  This particular coin just calls for a little more attention from our sorting table this harvest!

Because not everyone understands the role of a sorting table, we have come up with a video to walk you through its sorting process.  Below is a more detailed step-by-step explanation of our how our sorting table helps us select the best of the best!

  1. Grapes come in off the vineyard (woohoo!).
  2. We slowly load a bin of grapes onto the primary shaker table where bad clusters are sorted out.  The table is fitted with a perforated screen, so the unwanted small raisins/shot berries start to be sorted out by falling through its holes.  At the same time, our sorting team is also inspecting the clusters.  Green leaves are always on their hit list. We also sort out raisins, bird damage, and sometimes rot. If a cluster is majorly affected by any of these undesirable effects, they just toss the whole cluster.  If there are just a few berries affected, they can pull those individual berries off and send the rest of the cluster along.
  3. The clusters are metered into the elevator and evenly fed into the destemmer.  Every effort is made to dial in the destemmer settings (shaking and conveying speed) to leave what we want on the clusters while simultaneously getting rid of their stems.
  4. Berries fall from the destemmer onto the secondary sorting/shaking table. This table has two perforated screens to again sort out the unwanted raisins/shot berries/small berries.  Here again, we have our awesome sorting team manning the table to remove raisins and any jacks (pieces of broken stems that look like playing jacks) by hand.  The sorting tables do a lot of the work for us since they have the perforated metal grates that allow tiny raisins and under-ripe berries to fall through, but we believe you can never be too careful, so we have a team there as well to make sure only the best of the best make it through!  Our buff sorting table crew is ultra-exclusive!
  5. The very best berries are elevated up into another bin that we use to fill tanks with gravity dumping or are filled directly into puncheons/small tanks.  The goal is to have only the best stuff make it into the fermentor!  In the video, you will notice that we throw some dry ice in with the berries at the end of this process.  Besides creating an awesomely spooky effect, the dry ice helps keep oxygen out!