I confess I was a bit disappointed when it came to straining the grape skins out of the must. There, down in the garage was our lovely new press, courtesy of Nick and Kate who now own a gigantic hydraulic number, and there was me in the kitchen making the most desperate mess and squirting wine and grape skins all over the place, trying to extract the fermenting must a ladleful at a time through an old bag left over from my beer making days. It didn’t take long to work out that without using the press we’d waste most of the fruits of our labours, however Madame had been implacably opposed to using the press in our flat for fear of wine running across the floor and dripping out of our downstairs neighbour’s light fittings. The concrete building we live in has all its electrics routed through steel ducts that conduct both wires and inunadations of wine or washing machine water around the downstairs ceilings.
There were two main obstacles, or three if you include carrrying the weight of the press up three flights of stairs. There was Madame, arms folded and muttering dark forebodings and there was the missing handle. I thought if I made the most exquisitely careful preparations and planned the whole operation in my head before committing to pouring a single bucket I might placate the former. The latter meant a walk down to Avery Bowlers to buy an appropriately sturdy piece of mild steel bar to assist with the turning. One of the great joys of living in Bath is the immediate proximity of bookshops, garden centres and a place you can buy a piece of mild steel bar cut to length – all of them a short walk away.
So with all the equipment assembled and in place I tipped the first few gallons into the press. Out it flowed, freely, and minus its pips and skins and as the photo shows, I hadn’t even put the weighty ratchet in place. After a bit of nifty pan-swapping the flow was staunched and I poured in some more, and once again the fountain flowed, filling the room with the smell of fermenting grapes. Eventually it came to the point where I had to install the screw press and its asociated wooden blocks, all sterilized for the occasion. The spanking new handle stayed propped against the wall because anything more than gentle turning by hand resulted in water pistol style jets of wine spraying left and right. The job needed time and patience, increasing the pressure a gentle half-turn each time to encourage the flow. The only leakage occurred when I failed to notice that when the flow almost stopped, wine was running back below the lip and dripping on the floor, nothing a quick mopping couldn’t deal with. And so, after a while the skins and pips were as dry as I dared get them and we had nine gallons of fermenting juice, three of which were the damsons which I shoved through at the end in the hope that a tiny admixture of grape juice would do more good than harm. The barrels are all back in the kitchen now, finishing their first fermentation. A quick taste of the wine showed that even in its raw state it’s got alcohol, flavour and some tannin from the skins. It’ll probably need a long while in the bottles to mature but Chateau Victoria (Park) has passed its first milestone.