A Winery Walk & Talk with Christian Scagnetti at Moon Curser Vineyards

Ripening grapes for harvest at Moon Curser Vineyards

Ripening grapes for harvest at Moon Curser Vineyards

Grape harvest time is special.  There is the beauty of the ripe grapes and the leaves of the vines starting to change colours and the sights, sounds and smells of the grapes as they are sorted, crushed, and pumped to vat or barrel.  And the anticipation of making great wine from the grapes that the winery spent countless months and days tending to, and to harvest at the optimal moment.

At the start of October, I was fortunate to be invited to meet with Christian Scagnetti, winemaker, at Moon Curser Vineyards at the tail end of one morning of harvest.  They were processing their white Arneis grapes, which were already sorted and were in the press.  I could see the juice dripping out the bottom of the press and going by hose to stainless steel tank. September 2 was the start of the harvest for them, where they harvested grapes for sparkling wine.

Christian took me through the winery and then into the vineyards.  Let me tell you a bit of our discussion from my notes.

Christian first showed me the bin tipper that tips the grapes from the 1/2 ton bin onto the sorting table.  There are 2 people, one on each side of the table, but could go up to 3 or 4 depending on the amount of grapes to process. They remove mouldy grapes, stems, leaves, etc.  Anything you wouldn’t eat.  From the sorting table the grapes go into the destemmer where the metal fingers rotate and separate the grapes from the stems, with the grapes falling through the bottom and the stems out the edge to another bin.  The berries go into a hose that feeds into their 2.5 ton grape press and the must then goes into tank.  I was told that a 5000 litre stainless steel tank can fit one grape pressing. It takes about 1 hour to fill a stainless steel tank, but the pressing of the grapes takes 2-2.5 hrs.  You get 600 litres of juice per ton of grapes. 

Tipper, sorting table, and destemmer in a row (L), destemmer (M), Press (R) at Moon Curser Vineyards

Tipper, sorting table, and destemmer in a row (L), destemmer (M), Press (R) at Moon Curser Vineyards

Moon Curser has a red wine and a white wine cellar.  The white cellar has 1000, 2000, and 1500 litre tanks and they will be adding more tanks.  The cellar room is cool at 12 degrees year-round as the cellar is made of concrete. The Arneis was going into their 1500 litre tanks. 

Christian showing stainless steel tanks with glycol jackets

Christian showing stainless steel tanks with glycol jackets

They have 7000 and 8000 litre tanks that are used for their red grapes.  One thing that is interesting about the stainless steel tanks is that the lids (variable capacity) float on top of the grapes. There is a small valve at the top of the lid, a 2-way vent, where the carbon dioxide escapes from the fermentation process. For red grapes, you want to have the grape skins be in contact with the juice for colour before removing the skins.  This mix of grape skin and juice need bigger tanks.  A 5000 l tank can hold 4.5 tons of red grapes.  These bigger tanks need more controlled cooling which is accomplished through the glycol jackets around the tanks.  Christian likes to keep the fermentation temperature around 20-22 degrees for a red fermentation, but the temp can go higher.  Higher temps (up to 30 degrees) can be used to “cook” out unwanted green characters, in particular for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  This is fascinating.

From the cellar we went out into the vineyards that are adjacent to the winery, known as their Twisted Tree Vineyard. In case you didn’t know, Moon Curser Vineyards originally was named Twisted Tree Vineyards. Christian walked me through the length of the vineyard as we transitioned from one grape variety to the next. This is the first vineyard that was planted in 2004.  They do have a newer vineyard across the street from the winery, called the Moon Curser Vineyard. The Roussanne was not yet picked but was going to be picked in the next few days.  In this vineyard, they have Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, plus Carmenere, Tempranillo, and Tannat.

Christian says he picks grapes when a variety of factors work together; the taste of grape, brown seeds, and brix level. We tried some grapes together.  He said he was going more with taste profile this year, but having the brix number and acidity level is also good to know.  To Christian ripe vs unripe grapes are differentiated by how it sits on his mid-palate. If it has structure and weight, it is more ready, and he can then look at flavours.  Flavours can come in earlier, but the grapes could feel thin on the palate, so the grapes should mature more.

Viognier grapes in the bin waiting for sorting and crushing

Viognier grapes in the bin waiting for sorting and crushing

We continued to walk through the vineyard tasting grapes and worked our way back to the winery.  There were two bins of Viognier grapes waiting to be crushed the next day.  Christian noted Granny Smith apple flavour and I noted the higher acidity. He mentioned that this is good with the higher acidity as he is making a straight Viognier, unblended, meant to be light and easy drinking.  I look forward to tasting this wine once it is bottled.  The reds were not yet picked but they were going to start picking in the next week. 

I asked about picking the grapes.  Is it in the Dead of the Night? Christian noted they typically start picking around 7am but will adjust the time as the sunlight hours get shorter.  Two people can pick 8-10 bins a day.  A bin is 1000 lbs of grapes, so that is a lot of weight that the pickers handle in a day. 

We walked over to the Carmenere vines next. He said that Carmenere needs a long ripening time and is one of the latest grapes that they pick. One interesting thing he said is that the Carmenere grape reaches a certain brix level and it stays at that level, then as you leave the grapes to further ripen they get more flavourful.  So you can ripen out the green bell pepper flavour that you can get from underripe Carmenere grapes.

Walking down a bit further we stopped at their Tempranillo grapes, which were riper than the Carmenere grapes.  We tasted both grapes and you could easily tell the difference.  The Tempranillo grapes were more defined, ripe flavours, more sugar and still balanced with acidity.  The Carmenere grapes flavour was there, but there was no concentration of flavour.  You could tell that the Carmenere grapes still needed more hang time.

Bunches of Tannat grapes waiting for harvest at Moon Curser Vineyards

Bunches of Tannat grapes waiting for harvest at Moon Curser Vineyards

Lastly, we stopped at their Tannat block of grapes.  It was about as ripe as the Tempranillo grapes.  These grapes were more sugary than the Tempranillo, with lots of flavour, and much thicker grape skin. One cool thing that Christian mentioned about the Tannat grape is that it tends to have more seeds than other red grapes. You get 3-5 seeds per Tannat grapes, while other varieties typically have 2 seeds only.  They do a more gentle crush with Tannat so that they do not get too many seed tannins.  I was very impressed with the Tannat grapes and wondered why other Okanagan wineries do not plant this variety as well.  I hope to see more in the future. 

Thanks to Christian for spending time with me talking about the crush and the vineyards.  I was very impressed with all his knowledge and what they are doing at the winery.  I look forward to trying these wines when they are ready.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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