As a winemaker – self elected, and not employed, though very employable – the night becomes your working space. This isn’t for any logistical reason; nor am I trying to advocate drinking during the day; nor am I a vampire, although frequently my teeth are stained a red colour and from time to time sunlight can be a bit painful on the eyes. The night is, however, something that inspires the romantic, a frequent cliché that facilitates the creative mind.
I remember recently dealing with a Port (sue me, Portugal) sometime toward midnight in the shroud of the cellar. Fermentation had to be severed at the right moment, to end up with a good balance of sugar and alcohol. In what is a textbook execution of gluttony (see Bible), yeast eat so much sugar as to drown themselves in the ethanol they produce as waste – admittedly less romantic when one thinks about it from a human perspective. In this instance though, the Bacchus had to be accelerated and so we added a strong alcohol spirit solution to kill the yeast before the sugar could be finished.
My work partner and I stood over the lab desk, trying to decipher a cryptic jotting down I’d done of a Pearson’s square alcoholic fortification calculation, from a piece of paper, fate would have it, I had found in my pocket. A somewhat simple calculation to those with 10am focus and a good nights sleep. Finally he clarified it to me, guiding my eye across the sheet of paper with a hydrometer with the grace of one of our lecturers – at least he got something out of classes.
Having figured the concentrations out, we got back to our unicellular massacre. While our peers drifted past us into different rooms, confidently marching out holding the instruments they knew exactly where to find, we slowly flitted about trying to do the same thing. The feeling reminded me of a sped up time lapse of busy junction, us, the sulking film protagonist who sits on the bench while the world flies by. This usually happens in the ‘bridge’ of a standard movie plot, wherein the protagonist learns something new about themselves.
Eventually, coming out of a daze, alcohol was added and a very juvenile port had been created. (Juvenile describes it correctly, like an early teens boy, like I had been, who you entertain, but ultimately would rather not spend free time with). We toasted each other with a glass that neither of us had the stomach to finish and set about the final touches. Quantitatively, we threw 3.27 handfuls of Hungarian oak chips into the canister – we had no barrel, nor the quantity of wine to fill one. We sprayed down our working area in the cellar to wash away the wine and put back our equipment in all the wrong drawers. As a final act I resealed the canister of raw alcohol spirits, given it’s value and volatility, I felt momentarily like a bomb defusal expert, turning confidently to my partner saying ‘It’s done; it’s over’ and giving him a salute as a tear rolled down my cheek. Unfortunately, there was no bugle or waving flag.
I think that’s the beauty of the romanticism I started with; under the right mentality, anything can be an adventure of sorts, it’s just easier to pretend when working with wine than say, financial statistics (subjective, of course, I’m sure tax law is incredibly fun).
Into the night we marched, each with a bottle made of the spare product that couldn’t fit in the canister, and off to bed. Sadly, I opened the bottle days later – or the bottle opened itself, I should say- and a purple volcano erupted and coated my kitchen bench and all the exposed cutlery in sticky alcohol. A great deal of kitchen roll was required. The yeast had not gone without a fight, and pressurised the bottle with its dying breath of CO2, and I’ll say, in a Shakespearean way, it was the justice I had coming.