Gearing Up for 2016

    2016 is shaping up to be a great year for grapes in the Northeast.  The summer has been dry, sunny and hot.  The perfect weather for grapes to ripen and produce lots of sugar.  The only comparable year I know if is 2010, when we had an incredible run of heat (with a lot more humidity).  This was the year before I started buying grapes from Rhode Island, but the grapes were ready in early October and the Brix was around 23.  That’s a lot better than the normal 20-21.  Also, the Merlot has recovered from the 2014-2015 winter and the vineyard owner has said that he expects 60% of the fruit to be present this year.  I was concerned that we would lose out on another year of Merlot, but thankfully not.  I’m just getting ready by tweaking my destemmer crusher and wine press with some modifications to ensure that I have a successful crush this year.
     The destemmer crusher has undergone some improvements this year.  The first change was to ensure the gears stayed in alignment.   The gear that was not attached to the roller chain would constantly move forward, which would stop the crushing action.  This required a person to monitor that in order to ensure that the crusher rollers kept spinning.  I fixed this by cutting a piece of HDPE with a holesaw that would slip right over the stainless steel rod on the other side of the crusher box.  It is pretty tight on the rod and then I put a piece of tape on the end of the rod to make sure that the plastic did not move.  This should stop the rod from being to travel as the gears turn.  I could remake the gears, but this seemed like an easier option. 
The next modification was to add more stabilization to the base frame.  Through repeated movement of the unit from my basement to garage (over grass), the base had started to weaken somewhat.  In order to avoid a disaster where the frame failed and crashed down, I strengthened the frame with additional 2x4’s.  It is now a lot stronger.
On the stem end of the destemmer, I added additional height to the box to ensure that the stems fell straight down.  Previously, some would come out the sides due to the rotation of the fingers.  A couple years ago, I removed the last two fingers in order to stop some of this problem.  I still ended up with a few berries flying out, so making the box higher with sides to match will ensure that if the berries do come out the side, they will hit the sides of the box and fall down into a waiting container (to be fished out and placed back in the destemmer).  This will avoid a lot of berries on the floor that have to be cleaned or tossed.
     The final modification I made was to make a flap for the chute in which the grapes are dropped into the destemmer.  Due to the rotation of the auger in the front, sometimes the bunches would be thrown back out.  Now, because of how the auger works, it was just something that happened when it was in the exact right position.   The berries would always come out on the left side.  In order to stop surprising the loader, I could have made the chute longer, but I instead opted to create a flap on the left side of the chute.  This flap will cover ½ of the opening, so the berries can be dropped in on the right side and if any come back up, they will hit the flap and fall right back in.  This seemed like an easier fix than to build a longer chute.  First test is when the first grapes go in. :)