Every vintage, with all the hustle and bustle in a busy winery, there will always be something that goes wrong. Working long hours in a physically demanding and sometimes repetitive jobs can often lead to concentration lapses, that can lead to some epic mistakes. This year, although extremely sleep deprived with the arrival of bub number three during vintage, the only major oversight was making sure the grape bins would be available when we needed to pick. I had organised when the fruit would come in but organising the how and what it would arrive in bit, had eluded me.
However, I have witnessed some epic failures in my career while working in a few different wineries. There are two classic vintage mistakes that occur, first being the “overdose” of and additive. Often milligrams, grams and kilograms can get a bit confusing when tired often leading to the 10x addition to a tank. Generally, this is considered a f@#$-up and the resultant wine would most likely get blended into a larger batch to dilute the addition. The second is the “accidental blend.” It can be confusing with so many tanks that look the same and when the only identifiers of whats in the tank are tank numbers and batch codes, selecting the wrong tank easily occurs. This leads to moving wine into the wrong tank with another wine, hence a blend. Sometimes it’s not too bad, and there have been some great “accidental wines” created from these mistakes however, but if you transfer the sav blanc in with the cabernet making a new pink wine it would be considered a f@#$-up. Standard penalties for such cellar crimes are being dealt with by the winemaker, being roasted by your co-workers and a fine… usually a carton of Coopers Green but if significant enough you may need a few cartons or the ultimate penalty of dismissal could be issued.
Another epic fail, usually performed by the winemaker who hasn’t been doing too much cellar work and decides to get their hands dirty during vintage, is the “rotate the press with the door open”. This scenario sees the grape press (usually full of the premium batch of grapes) being set to rotate around and as the open door nears the floor that all too terrifying sound of a giant sloppy cow poo hitting the concrete followed by loud screams from the winemaker deafens those in the cellar and sometimes scares customers in the cellar door. It’s here the cellar staff decide whether it’s better to hide behind a tank and take cover or run for the shovels and bins and start scooping up the mess.
Turning a wine tank into a squashed coke can is also a common fail, and all too easy to do. Simply forgetting to open the lid before transferring the wine out leads to a sound of metal denting and twisting and before you know it then tank isn’t quite the same shape anymore.
A rather messy but spectacular event is the "open the fermenter door before the tank is drained" scenario. Normally before emptying a tank of fermenting red grapes, the tank would be drained of most of the liquid. Then the bottom door is opened ready to shovel the skins out. The door should be slowly cracked open to allow any build up of wine to drain first... open it too quick and a torrent of red liquid and grapes can rush out and shower the unfortunate cellar hands head to tow. This happened to me once when my cellar buddy decided to be brave and open the door. We both soaked in warm red shiraz just in time for the visiting dignitaries to see. Very professional!
I guess I should fess up to a fail in my first vintage that cost me a carton of Coopers… I was adding more yeast to an already fermenting tank of 130000L of Chenin. It hadn’t occurred to me the tank would be rather active and fizzy and perhaps a little care should be taken to slowly add the largish addition that needed to be pumped in. I was standing at the bottom of the tank and I heard a “tink tink’ noise at the lid, as I looked up there was a boom and out of the tank shot a stream of Chenin in a jet high into the sky before it rained down as a beautiful foaming fizz on the outside of the tank. Unfortunately, there was no hiding for me as the winemaker saw my Chenin volcano out the window… busted! But no harm done and lesson learned, carton paid!