By: Bonnie Kakos
Picture this in your mind… The year, 2020, the time… Harvest, October 2020…. The place… San Miguel! The Pandemic, just like harvest, is in full bloom. Regardless of the chaos of the year, harvest was looking good for Pianetta Winery… at least we thought so.
We had all our grapes harvested, and most varietals had been pressed off… things were looking good. Or so the story goes…
Mind you, October is the largest wine club shipment Pianetta processes. When the shipment is combined with harvest, needless to say, it is pretty busy up at the ranch, often times we will work extra days to get the shipments out, and of course the fermenting wine needs constant attention 2-3 times daily.
On this particular Sunday, I had gone to the winery to continue packaging our large order of wine club shipments. While I was up there, Caitlin, of course, was working on the wines and was enjoying a visit from her longtime friend Trina, (also a long time wine club member), who was visiting from Colorado. They had been working on 2 other tanks of grapes in various stages of the fermentation process and were just about to start on the third and final tank of Zinfandel for a quick pump over.
The 2020 Pianetta Zinfandel was in primary fermentation in the tank and just about ready to start a pump over. For those that don’t know what “pump overs” are, here is a brief description:
Pump-Over: Also known as “remontage,” the process of pumping red wine up from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the fermenting must; the purpose is to submerge the skins so that carbon dioxide is pushed to the surface of the must and released. This process also keeps the skins of the fermenting grapes moist and creates a more controlled and uniform fermentation process.
Then…. It seemed like all hell broke loose…. Quickly!
While I was packaging the wine club on one side of the winery, Caitlin and Trina were moving from tank to tank doing the “Pump Overs” on the fermenting wines. Then, they approached Fermenter #3… filled with fermenting Zinfandel. While enjoying catching up over some friendly banter, Caitlin was casually placing the hoses on the bottom valve of the tank to collect the fermenting liquid to pump over the top must. All of a sudden BAM…. The entire valve just came right off, leaving a 3” opening with no control on containing the large mass of “purple gold” being shot out of the tank.
Recreation of "the event"
The Zinfandel was gushing out at such a rapid rate and staring to cover the floor in waves of crimson and magenta. putting the hose on the tank and the value popped open and the Zinfandel started gushing out all over Caitlin and Trina practically knocking them off their feet with such force.
Puppy "Millie" and Trina
Caitlin was directly in front of the opening and notice that the valve had not traveled far, but still needed the gasket and clamp to have any chance to save the wine. She grabbed the valve and tried to hold it against the waterfall of Zinfandel which seemed to be nonstop. After a split second I realized that “we had a problem” as I watched the waves of wine filling up the floor. Being the playful puppy that she is, all 4 months and 2lbs of our new winery “dog” Millie seemed to be surfing in the cascading waves of Zinfandel.. I was able to grab Millie (who we still believe to this day thought it was some fun game), and get her to the safety of her crate.
Thinking on her feet, Trina ran outside and was able to find a bin, clean it out and push it back to the tank which Caitlin was still trying to hold back pressure on to collect the wine and try to minimize the loss. Now we finally had a moment to take a step back and figure out what was necessary to get this tank under control. I found the tiny gasket and clamp laying nearby and was able to give it to Cait to try to reattach. (which can be a bit tricky, as these clamps and gaskets have to fit “just so” in order to prevent any leakage and create a uniform and solid seal.
We actually thought Caitlin was crying and having a panic attack as she was trying to put the clamp and valve back on, but we realized that she could hardly breath due to the mass amounts of CO2 (byproduct of the fermentation of sugar to alcohol). With a little extra muscle from Trina the valve, gasket and clamp finally set and we were able to lock the clamp down and finally STOP the Zinfandel Waterfall of 2020. It felt like hours had past, but we realized that it had just been a matter of minutes.
Then we all took deep breath both crying and laughing at the same time.
We looked at the winery full of Zinfandel 2020, the floor hopelessly down the drain. But also took a look at the bin, which saved approximately 300-350 gallons of our 2020 Zin!.
I think we really started laughing when we were wiping away the wine from our arms, face, and hair, and realized we were sticky and crimson from head to toe. Thank god that John had some extra work clothes and I had just packed up a box of old clothes to donate to goodwill which was still in my car. Thank god John had built some outdoor showers and we were able to get cleaned up pretty quick. Bras were drying on the sideview mirrors of the truck, and we all got to “step foot in John’s shoes” so to speak for an afternoon. To this day my clothes are still Zinfandel red! The three of us still jokingly refer to the “2020 panty dropper Zin.”
We have released the 2020 Zinfandel and it’s amazing; I don’t think I have ever worked so hard for a bottle of wine. Bahahah…..
Give the 2020 Zinfandel a try!