It was a picture-perfect October Saturday morning at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.
Due to the drought conditions and warmer weather conditions, the grapes ripened quickly and the 2014 Harvest came earlier than in previous years.
Night-time picking had just been completed and the grapes lay in various stages of fermentation in the steel tanks and oak barrels. The cool air in the cellar was pungent with the smell of the ripening red grapes in the open bins.
Wilson Creek Winery‘s winemaker Kestutis “Gus” Vizgirda’s hands, legs and clothes were stained a deep red hue from vigilantly tending to the grape juices and skins non-stop in the first crucial days after the harvest.
Over two dozen students from San Diego State University’s Business of Wine certificate program, eagerly gathered for the two-day “Winemaking Behind The Scenes” course taught by Wilson Creek Winery’s Wine Guru, Gus.
The timing of the class couldn’t have been any more ideal as the cellar was bursting with winemaking activity! All phases of winemaking were available for observation along with extensive barrel and tank wine tastings.
Gus first led the students on a walking field lecture in the vineyard, explaining the challenges of growing grapes in the Temecula Valley. Vineyard and canopy management, pest control practices, soil type, irrigation and fertilization applications were explained as the students stood amidst the vines.
Considered a small winery, Wilson Creek Winery produces around 35,000 cases of wine a year from the 70 estate acres. Grape varietals number 14, with claim to the oldest planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Temecula.
The students viewed the crushing and de-stemming machinery as Gus demystified the whole cluster vs. de-stemming processes. Students were treated to barrel samples of Chardonnay in the primary stage of malolactic fermentation and then to stainless steel tank samples in more advanced stages of fermentation for comparison.
Wines blended and aged for Wilson Creek Winery‘s Sherry sat still in the outside temperature-controlled steel tanks. Gus demonstrated how veraison sugars are measured in grapes with the use of a hydrometer and explained how the chemistry of yeast, tannins and acids come into play in winemaking.
Lastly, cellar sanitation, including barrel and tank cleaning, and the bottling process was discussed in detail. The two-day class was amazing and insightful due in large part to the exuberance and knowledge that “Wine Guru Gus” imparted upon the students. For a behind-the-scenes tour, contact Wilson Creek Winery www.wilsoncreekwinery.com