By David Wong, San Jose State University student
Nestled in the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains is Skov Winery, owned by Annette and David Hunt and their family.
It is harvest season for wineries, but at Skov Winery everything is quiet as the Hunt family has taken the year off to spend more time together after a difficult and poor harvest or “crush” last year that only yielded one-fourth of the expected harvest.
Underneath the main complex by the entrance to the winery there are fermentation tanks that hold crushed grapes that are dumped down a funnel after being separated from their stems. The facility produces Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc white wines. For red wines skins are left in the tanks with the juices, which absorb the color, flavors, and tannins from the skins, according to Annette Hunt.
The facility was originally built in 1972 by the original owners, the Roudon- Smith family, who retired in 2003 when the Hunts took over.
“We’ve always loved wine, we definitely had more of a passion for drinking it than making it.” Hunt joked.
Hunt said during the fermentation, there is heat that is produced so they need to have the tanks open to release all the gaseous vapors produced during fermentation.
The skins or “cap” will eventually rise to the top, which requires a “pump-over” where the grape juice is pumped back into the tank, in order to keep the skins moist. If the skins are left to dry they will block the vapors from being released.
In reference to the latched doors on the sides of tanks, Hunt said:
“I always joke that we stay slim and fit around here...when the tanks aren’t being used my kids like to go [into the tank] and use it as a hideout [before re-sterilizing it].”
“The Santa Cruz Mountains is a wonderful region for grape-growing — Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the varietals that are grown here, but because we so many different microclimates [with the coastal fog], we’re able to grow a lot of other varietals as well.”
The consistent climate affords the grapes more “hang-time” to mature and add complexity to taste in terms of flavor profiles.
According to Hunt, at the beginning of the bottling process workers insert nitrogen gas into the bottles. Argon may also be used, but is expensive in comparison. Dust and oxygen particles are replaced by nitrogen before heading to the “filler,” a cylindrical piece of equipment that fills the previously empty bottles with wine pumped through hoses underneath the floorboards.
When the bottle is filled to a certain limit it heads to the “corker,” which is a device with a drum head that seals each bottle with a natural cork stopper. A “Spinner,” “header,” or “foiler” tightens a foil capsule that is placed on bottle. The bottle goes to a fully automated labeler with a reel of sticker labels.
“We’re able to bottle at about two and a half cases a minute,” Hunt said. “We have a license to produce 10,000 cases of wine of here a year.”
The regular tasting room is much more cozy, only holding up to 12 people at a time compared to the expansive back room, which holds several cases of wine on pallets.
“We’ll use this [expanded room] for wine storage for some of our winter events like Passport [Day] (where several wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains are open to public visitation and tasting) or holiday parties,” Hunt said.
Hunt expects next year’s crush to be much better than in 2011 as the family resumes work at the winery.