Locating Grapes & Cleaning Presses: Wine Wizard

Dear Wine Wizard,

I came back from Australia six months ago and was fortunate enough to visit the Hunter Valley. I brought back some wine and among the bottles was a Chardonnay/Verdelho blend that I had sampled and enjoyed. I opened it the other day and was again amazed at how good it was. Well, to make a long story short, I have now got it into my head that I want to make this blend for my next year’s white wine. The problem I seem to be having is that the Verdelho grape appears to be grown only in Portugal and Australia, instead of in Washington state where I am located. I am just stumped as to where to go next as to inquire if anyone in the nearby vineyards (in either Oregon or anywhere in Washington) grows this varietal. I’m willing to do quite a bit of work and pay handsomely to begin to get the grapes, I just don’t know where to get the contact information that I need.

Jonna Reed
Kirkland, Washington

Wine Wizard Replies: Congratulations on falling in love with a new grape varietal! I would think that someone in your great state would be experimenting with Verdelho, perhaps best known, as you mention, in Australia and Portugal. It’s very famous on the island of Madeira (off the shore of Portugal), where its green, oblong and characteristically hard berries are much-used in fortified winemaking. The Verdelho wines of Australia, on the other hand, are often made into crisp table wines.

So where, oh where, to lay your hands on some Verdelho here in the United States? I think you’re on the right track with checking out nearby vineyards and getting in touch with vintners in Washington and Oregon. Below are some suggestions that ought to help. Do be aware that as many of these contacts are in the commercial grape industry (and as such are used to dealing in volumes of 10 tons or more), you may have a tough time finding someone willing to take you seriously on a home winemaker’s scale. Hopefully you’ll find a small vineyard owner or grower in your area that can help you out! Best of luck!

Contact a local trade association or Winery/Grower group to see if they know of anyone that might have Verdelho for sale:

  • Enology Society of the Pacific Northwest/Seattle Wine Society
  • Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers
  • Northwest Berry and Grape Information Network
  • Washington State Grape Society
  • Washington Wine Commission
  • Yakima Valley Winery Association

Also, local farm advisors or university extension professionals will have leads:

  • Washington State University Viticulture Extension
  • Oregon State Viticultural Extension

Dear Wine Wizard,

I just came across an old grape press hardly used (from the 1950 era I think). I have two questions: Firstly, what would be a good way to clean and sanitize the wood slats or even the whole press before I put it to use? A fellow winemaker suggested a power washer or a steamer. Secondly, the original owner put copper on the bottom where the juice flows into and then out of the chute to the pail. Will the copper cause an off-flavor to the wine for the short time it comes into contact with the juice?

RJ Peters
Richmond, Michigan

Wine Wizard Replies: The Wine Wiz would first examine the press (especially the pressure-bearing bits, like the wooden side slats, the floor and any metal joiners) for wear and tear to make sure that, being so old, it truly is up to the task! Old equipment can be fun to look at as well as use but sometimes the old parts are just, well, old. Wood rots, metal rusts and sometimes parts fall off or are lost . . . it’s no fun to load up a ton press with fermented must just to find that the little screw thingy that holds the pneumatic handle on is missing!

So if you’ve examined it and all looks good to go, I do first recommend a chemical-free go-over with a pressure-washer or steam cleaner. It’s a great way to blast off stubborn layers of dirt, old grape matter, and any other kind of random ick. I love pressure washers. Using them to clean cellar floors, tanks or most anything for that matter is so satisfying, seeing clean strips of concrete emerge from under layers of floor gunk . . . but I digress.

Once things are clean to your satisfaction using a pressure-washer, it’s time to get into the nooks and crannies with an old toothbrush or other similar device. Make sure you really get into the cracks and crevices to get any material out and to rinse well with water afterwards. If you have stubborn soil, tartrate crystals or other schmutz still adhering to the press, you could certainly use a strong soda ash and water solution to help dissolve it. Just follow with a citric acid and water rinse, followed by a fresh water rinse, before allowing to dry for storage. Be careful to keep your freshly-clean press in a dry, cool and preferably shaded place as wood molds easily . . . but also gets bleached in the sun too!

As far as the copper spout goes, I wouldn’t worry too much about it as your wine will be passing over it quickly and it’s unlikely to add high amounts of copper to your wine. As an aside, copper fittings were (and in some cases still are) used in winemaking as a way of treating wine for “reductive” or rotten-egg aromas (hydrogen sulfide). The copper reacts with the stinky sulfur compounds and causes them to lose most of their disagreeable smell and fall out of solution. I’ve sometimes used a copper wire screen in my pump over tank when I’ve had a stinky fermentation to great success. A general guideline for avoiding over-leaching copper (which can be toxic to humans at high levels) into your wine is to prevent your wine from being in contact with any copper fittings for more than an hour (especially if you are working with a highly acidic variety). It’s not a good idea, say, to let your pressed grapes drain slowly overnight, as some thrifty winemakers I know do to squeeze out every last drop. If having a copper spout at the bottom of the press worries you, feel free to change it out or modify it if possible. Happy pressing!