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Brian Carter Cellars
July 10, 2020 | Brian Carter Cellars

My Intro to the Wine Business, by Cameron Cohn

When I first walked into the cellar to work with Brian and Robert, I didn’t know what to expect and I knew close to nothing about wine, wine vocabulary, or the industry. I was told to bring clothes that can get wet, painting a very strange picture in my head of what I just signed up for. To my surprise, it didn’t take me long to get the hang of things and begin to understand everything that Brian was teaching and instructing me. On this particular day, we were racking 2018 Abracadabra red from barrels to tank for bottling in mid-July. This procedure is very intricate and it requires you to strictly follow the steps in order.

First, I carefully plunged the racking wand connected to the pump into the bottom center of the barrel. I made sure that wine didn’t overflow from the top, which didn’t necessarily happen every time (sorry in advance if I wasted a glass of wine or two). Next, I would turn the valve perpendicular and begin pumping the wine into the tank. Then came my favorite part of the process, which was holding a flashlight up to the pump to observe the lees content. It fascinated me to see the particles running through the wine and compare the lees of one barrel to the other. Once all the wine is pumped, I would shut it off and repeat this process with what seemed to be an endless number of barrels. After each one, I would make sure to turn it over and dump all the lees into a bucket to preserve them for later.

Of course then came the fun part, which was scrubbing and cleaning the barrels. They must be scrubbed with a hydrogen peroxide solution to remove the stains, while the inside of the barrel is cleaned with hot water, steam, plugged close with a bung, and finished with cold water, each for a duration of four minutes. Being my first day on the job, I didn’t escape without an occasional splash to the face from a hose that I forgot to turn off.

Throughout this process, I took away two important lessons. On one hand, I now have a slightly better understanding of the phrase “every wine tells a story”, which really didn’t make any sense to me at first. As I was working, Brian would go around tasting every barrel, then take a second to think. He had a slightly different reaction to nearly every one. Some of them he liked, some just ok, and others were not up to his standards. Watching him do this helped me realize that even though it was all the same blend of wine, every barrel was different and told its own story.

The second and more blatant lesson I learned was that the beauty process is not beautiful. On the outside, the industry has a beautiful and glamorous image and wine has always been associated with luxury and high class occasions. But after being sprayed in the face and flinching after handling a scorching hot hose, I learned the process of making wine takes a lot of time, and is labour intensive. It showed me just how hard Brian, Robert, and the rest of the staff work to create a beautiful bottle of wine and make people happy.


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