Omphalos Winery co-owner Tom Messier is also an assistant wine maker and cellar master at Deep Sky Vineyard’s custom crush facility. Photo by Dottie Farrar

Deep Sky Vineyard is a custom crush facility in Elgin that processes wine for Deep Sky, Rune, Autumn Sage, and Omphalos wineries. Most of the larger wineries in southern Arizona process their own wines, but, for some, a custom crush facility makes economic sense, the necessary machinery being so expensive. “They bring the grapes, and they get them back bottled,” said Kim Asmundson, co-owner of Deep Sky.

“We anticipate continuing as a custom crush,” Asmundson said. “The equipment is so expensive; we have a fabulous winemaker, top of the line equipment and capacity. We consider it a service to other vineyards, and for us, financially, it makes sense.”

From the beginning of harvest in August, and into October, vineyards truck their grapes to Deep Sky in white bins, 1,000 pounds to a bin. A forklift transfers the white bins to an elevator which carries them up and dumps the grapes into a de-stemmer machine. The stems will be composted, while the grapes and some juice are pumped into even larger white bins where fermentation takes place.

Rune, Deep Sky and Omphalos use naturally occurring yeast to ferment the grapes, as do 15% of the local wineries. The other wineries use a commercial fermentor, which allows greater control of the “taste.” Fermentation takes place in 14-20 days, as the yeast eats the sugar in the grapes. Sugar content goes down, alcohol goes up until finally sugar is zero. During this time, twice a day, cellar master Tom Messier “punches it down,” using a punch tool to punch the skins down to the bottom of the bin. After fermentation, the bins contain mostly juice.

The bins are put back on the elevator and dumped into the press which squishes the grapes for about two hours. The resulting wine drips into the bottom of the press and is then pumped back into the bins. Next the wine is pumped into wooden barrels which have been sanitized by pressure washing, steaming at 180F for five minutes, and sprayed with ozone. Hooped, wooden barrels are used in fine wine making because they allow air to come in and the alcohol and water to evaporate out. The barrels are topped once a month to replace volume lost to evaporation. If during the barreling process a few barrels are less than full, perhaps half full, the wine in these barrels is pumped into kegs. Next, argon is added, forcing any remaining air out. The wine is then pumped back into barrels which have been sanitized, remaining there until bottling. The wines will age in barrels for around nine to ten months until bottling time, which begins in June at Deep Sky.

In the production room, the bottling process begins with the pumping of the wine from the barrels into large, stainless steel tanks. There are four large tanks at Deep Sky, each holding 1070 gallons, and one slightly smaller one.

The bottling machine resembles a giant espresso machine. Bottling is incredibly quick with 46 bottles a minute filled, corked, sealed and labeled. It takes six people to keep up with the speed of the machine. One person places the bottles on the conveyor belt, while a second person monitors the machine. Two people grab the filled bottles as they come off the machine and place them in the case boxes. Another labels the boxes. Next, the case boxes move to pallets, to be placed in a climate controlled room where the temperature and humidity are closely monitored, and the wines are tasted periodically to judge quality.

It takes at least 18 months for red wines to be ready for the tasting rooms, while whites need a little less time. However, some reds will age for multiple years until they are deemed “just right.” Presently, there are 2018s in the climate controlled storage room and even a few cases of 2017s.