The Learning Curve

Hello Everyone!

The Kriselle Cellars blog has a new voice this summer! I, Aubrey Steingraber, daughter of the owners and winemaking novice, find myself employed this summer in the winery at Kriselle Cellars. As such, I’m privy to a wide variety of perspectives of work on the winery and shall be providing a behind the scenes look at Kriselle Cellars and the people who work here beside me.

But first,a bit about myself. I am currently a senior at Western Washington University with only one quarter left before I receive my degree in Archaeology, East Asian Studies, and Geology. After the school year ended, I managed to stuff my belongings and my cat into my little car and moved down to Medford to spend the summer helping my dad make some wine.

Aubrey at her archaeological field school in Japan, 2010

Needless to say, these first couple weeks have had a fairly steep learning curve for someone more familiar with arrowheads than wineglasses. This is no Winemaking 101 class—you have to pick up everything as you go. For instance, what do you think “bbl” stands for? Despite the fact it reads in my head as “bubble,” bbl actually stands for barrel. As a result, I’m constantly reading entries in the inventory log as “5 bubbles were moved to the fermentation room,” or “We need to order more wine bubbles.” Do I giggle a bit? Definitely—but only when my dad is facing the other direction.

Of course, my first week was composed of jobs which make up some of the more difficult tasks in the winemaking process. Wine spends much of its time sitting in tanks or barrels, but sometimes it has to be moved. In this instance, we needed to monitor the pH and acidity levels in the wine and adjust them as needed. We tested the wine using a rather impressive collection of chemistry equipment which allows us to calculate pH and parts per million of SO2. Once the chemical levels had been tested and adjusted, we transferred the wine from its temporary location in tanks into barrels where it will sit for the next six months before being touched again. Wine has three main enemies: oxygen, sunlight, and warm temperatures. Any of these, if introduced into the environment, will ruin the flavor and color of the wine. As a result, moving wine in our winery requires a multi-step process in order to minimize the amount of oxygen which comes in contact with the wine and the amount of wine that is spilled during the transfer.

The tank room and our collection of steel tanks.

My first few days on the job were a scramble to move thousands of gallons of wine from our massive holding tanks into barrels. This requires attaching a hose with a specialized nozzle feature to the tanks and individually filling each barrel by hand. The hose attaches to the tank with a special circular clamp where you must hold the hose in place while you tighten the screw which fixes the clamp in place. Unfortunately, my father is right-handed.  I am left-handed, so all the clamps must be oriented in a way where the right hand does all the fancy work. I can assure you, I experienced flashbacks to those days in preschool when you struggle to determine which hand you should use. None of this would have happened if everyone in the world were left-handed, as they ought to be!

Once the hoses were in place, I spent much of the next few days leaning over the barrels with a flashlight to make sure they didn’t overfill. This step requires some skill. The barrels must be completely filled so that when the bung is inserted into the bunghole, only the tiniest bit of wine oozes out, ensuring a perfect, oxygen-free seal. I was pretty good at that job, but I wasn’t infallible, and so I also spent a significant amount of time mopping up some of my small mistakes.

The next step was to move our newly filled barrels back into the barrel room, which is temperature controlled to benefit the final taste of the wine. We cleaned EVERYTHING then took some full barrels and transferred that wine to the tanks so we could adjust some of the chemical levels. This required bringing out an entirely new machine which pushes the wine out of the barrel using pressurized nitrogen. Nitrogen is used because oxygen oxidizes the wine, leaving a bad taste in the final product. Every step taken in winemaking is performed in a way which reduces the wine’s contact with oxygen.

Our barrel storage facilities. It smells so good in there!

By the end of my first week, my hands were stained purple, my work jeans had an undeniable pink hue, and I had developed strange purple freckles from some splattering wine. But, I managed to survive the steepest incline of the learning curve and walked away relatively unscathed with only a few disapproving looks from my dad. But please, don’t offer me any wine at the moment. Beer, anyone?


Aubrey Steingraber

Comments (15)

  1. Shari Jones says:

    Hi Aubrey..Just wanted to tell you I loved your blogg..learned a few things!!!.Nice to see you sweetie!!!
    Shari (Kristins mother)

  2. Linda McCormick says:

    We are friends of your grandparents (Steingraber) and I really enjoyed reading your blog from the point of view of a “novice”. We have a good friend who is a wine connoisseur in Napa and sometimes it is overwhelming to us.

  3. Alan says:

    Hi, what a nice blog you have here, after surfing through some of your material i will most certainly come back again soon. Its so enjoyable to see an informative website compared to a lot of others that are around, keep up the good work. Many thanks.

  4. Rita says:

    Aubrey, I just want to thank you for the informative and enjoyable blog. I loveed the humor and I can picture the process you described. We’re your neighbors and are excited to see the progress on the tasting room.

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