Not as violent as it sounds, punch downs are when you use a paddle tool to punch through the cap of grape skins that form on the top of a fermenting vat of wine and then stir everything around a lot to mix in some oxygen. It’s a necessary part of wine making, and those people working production do it twice a day during crush, for dozens of fermenters. It’s an ab and arm workout too, for sure. Most people stand on the edge of the vat itself, but I’m a total newbie, so I got to stand on a ladder.
“Watch her and make sure she doesn’t fall in,” is what the assistant manager said to the cellar hand who was showing me the ropes. Points for me for not falling, I guess! I’ve never done anything on the production side before, despite my curiosity about it. No one else could understand why I was so excited about doing punch downs, and no one really thought I was going to do them. When I got up on that ladder, everyone started gathering around with camera phones; not a bad thing, because now I have commemorative photos.
I only punched down 3 fermenters; I can imagine I’d be really sore if I’d done as many as the production crew does every day! Sometimes I forget that a lot of winemaking is just the routine tasks like punch downs, pumping over the wine, and cleaning and topping off barrels. There’s kind of a glamorous image of winemakers sitting around smelling wine and concocting different blends, but this is really a getting-your-hands-dirty kind of profession. I was really happy to get a small taste of what the production side is like! I’m hoping they’ll let me back to help with more punchdowns….