Friday, October 29, 2010

Vintage 2010 - Fin.

Today, Friday October 29, we end what we began almost exactly 2 months ago:  our 2010 vintage has come to a close.  

It’s easy to determine when vintage starts.  This year it began on August 30th as our euphoric little band stood on the crushpad and hand-loaded Chardonnay grapes into the press while watching the sun rise over steel-blue Seneca Lake.  It was a fabulous morning; we were filled with anticipation and a sense of urgency.  We were not sure what challenges lay ahead, but we could not wait to meet them.

In the ensuing weeks, we crushed and pressed over 255 tons of fruit.  We analyzed all the incoming juices for ºBrix, titratable acidity and pH. We racked thousands of gallons of juices, inoculated 47 fermentations, monitored fermentation status via assay and taste, controlled fermentation temperatures, punched down red ferments, fed yeast their required nutrients, and pressed the reds to tanks.  We’re emptying barrels of last year’s reds in order to wash and refill the barrels with 2010 reds.  We’re evaluating the 09 reds as we’re wrapping up this year’s vintage.  

Phew.  We did a lot, and mainly, it was done without sleep.  Peter Bell did not miss a single day of vintage—in fact, he has worked every day since mid-August.  Kelby might have stayed home one of the days, and Peter Howe was here for all but an occasional Saturday.    Those days usually ranged from 12-16 hours in length—what a marathon.  I’m a Mom—I had a later start and, quite often, an earlier quitting time than the fellas.   These guys always understood my need to spend some time at with my girls and tend at least a little bit to our home—no matter how tired Peter, Kelby and Peter were, they never minded my leaving when I had to go—what a great crew to work with!!!  Fatigue could not erode their passion or their vision or their good humor.  

There is still a lot of work to do.  There is a monumental amount of clean-up which has to happen next week.  We have fermentations still ticking along in tanks.  We have loads of barrel work left to do.  We have to inoculate about half of our reds and all of our Chardonnay barrels with malolactic bacteria.  We have critical decisions to make regarding the residual sweetness we desire in our aromatic white varieties.  We have to push our Rieslings into various styles, and make those blends. 

So, with all this left to do, how can I say that vintage is over? 

We pressed our last red fermentations into tanks today.  The crusher-destemmer and must pump have been cleaned, and so has the press.  We will not be getting any more fruit this year.  All of the grapes which we picked have been processed, i.e., they  have been crushed and pressed and are now wine.  The yeast haven’t finished all of their work yet, but we do not have any juice left in the winery.  

There is no formal or industry-wide end to vintage, though we’re not alone in choosing this end of pressing to signify the end of this season.  The phone starts ringing around the end of October as winemakers re-emerge from vintage.  Everyone wants to know if we are done pressing, if we like what we are seeing, and most important, if we are all safe after this long period of hard, and potentially accident-causing, phase of winemaking.  

Here’s hoping that all of our comrades are safe and well, and that, as our friend Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road says, all the babies (new wines) are happy.


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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Harvest Time, and the Living Is Easy

Among the many questions we get asked by visitors and reporters during vintage is how we decide when it is time to pick our grapes.  Given that the flavor of grapes has a murky connection at best to the flavors we perceive in a finished wine made from them, it is a question I often wondered about when I first came into the winery as well.  Failing an unexpected and catastrophic weather event (early frost, hurricane, biblical flood, locusts, frogs, etc.), there are a few factors that come into play:

  • Visual:  No surprise that most of the decision-making is based on going out into the vineyards and looking at the vines and grapes.  What surprised me most was that with Pinot Noir, one indicator of sugar and flavor potential (i.e. whether it will accumulate or mature any further) is the appearance of the grapes.  If they have the matte appearance you see below, as opposed to a bright sheen, they are not going to ripen any further and we’ll plan on harvesting.

 I Like This Matte Finish
Pinot Noir grapes that have completed ripening.
  • Health:  Depending on the growing season and the weather during harvest, there are a number of health concerns we look for in tasting the grapes and making harvesting decision.  A visual inspection might reveal presence of botrytis, a mold that dries the grapes out and contributes very distinct flavors.  Some wines are made in a style that benefits from botrytis, so long as the infection concentrates sugars and flavors without opening the clusters to sour (think vinegar) rot.  We are often hoping to keep our fruit as clean as possible, however, and try to avoid any botrytis influence.
  • Sugar/Acid Balance:  In growing regions where ripening is all but assured, harvest decisions are sometimes made solely based on reaching a certain sugar level.  In the Finger Lakes sugar accumulation is always a bit of a challenge in vinifera grapes, especially given that it takes a surprisingly large amount of sugar for fermentation to produce a wine with normal alcoholic strength (when we harvest grapes they are nearly candy-sweet).  Even in a year such as 2010, where we did not have to worry about sugar ripeness in the grapes, we were still out tasting frequently to account for how the sugar was being balanced out by the acid left in the grapes.
  • Taste:  What may seem most obvious, but actually comes near the end in making harvest decisions, is how the grapes taste.  Tricia already wrote of the flavors we are seeking in gewürztraminer grapes, but every grape has characteristics we taste for and green flavors we hope we can wait out before harvesting.  Regardless of sugar level, ripeness of flavors can lag or speed ahead of what we might expect and we have to be prepared for that.  We notice whether the seeds pop out of the grape or are still covered in a gelatinous material.  With red grapes, we even taste the seeds to see if they are bitter and unripe or nutty and chocolate.
  • Harvesting Crew:  Securing a harvesting crew or a harvesting machine and operators is oftentimes the greatest challenge we are faced with in making harvest decisions.  Especially if a day of rain is imminent, securing a harvesting group right before can be akin to a political miracle given all the competition from other vineyards for the same crew.

Even barring a catastrophic weather event, everything mentioned above might end up going out the window.  If a long spell of rain settles in and pushes up disease pressure on our vines that can force our hand regardless of flavor.  If cold weather and/or a standard-issue frost shuts down sugar accumulation and takes off the leaves, that can also end up bringing in our grapes early.  Ultimately, this is what keep us humble as winemakers… but also makes the job so interesting time and time again.

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Comes into Sight

There comes a time during the end stages of vintage when a gentle elation sets in, tempered by the remnants of exhaustion that linger after several months of very demanding work. Right now at Fox Run, we may just be at that point. Kelby reports that he got eleven hours of sleep last night, having woken only once worrying about an imminent nutrient addition to one of our Merlots.

  Riesling fermentations are coasting toward completion. Here’s what they look like from above.

Solving problems, real or imagined, in the middle of the night is one of the inevitable consequences of being a winemaker. Sleep researchers have confirmed that our brains never actually shut down. Like, that’s something that winemakers knew all along! The chunks of rest we grab are more for the body than the mind.

My recurring quasi-nightmare, cold sweat and noisy distress and all, always involves an overflowing tank of some wine or other, most often one of our treasured Rieslings. After one of those episodes, I have to coax myself back to sleep with a few hundred mantra-like repetitions of  “It was only a dream…”

Okay, I will never approach the soaring rhetoric of Martin Luther King. This is more about self-palliation.

Back to the elation thing. No winemaker I’ve ever met can be described as smug, but this year we carry around a satisfying conviction that we are entitled to quietly revel in a job well done. The 2010 vintage – my twenty-first in the Finger Lakes – never careened out of control the way vintage can when grapes-coming-in exceed the staff’s ability to properly look after them. My deep gratitude goes out to Fox Run veteran, the indispensable Peter Howe; to treasured, immensely talented assistant winemaker Tricia Renshaw, and to brainiac, multitalented intern winemaker Kelby Russell.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Gewürztraminer Is Trying To Break My Heart

Gewurztraminer is a heartbreaker.  In fact, it’s the biggest heartbreak grape.  There, I’ve said it, at risk of starting a squabble. 

Many of my colleagues would argue that Pinot noir is the more nefarious heartbreaker—and they’d have good reason.  Like no other grape, it’s delicate and fussy—no, really.  Pinot carefully raised in the vineyard, gently processed, lovingly tended in the winery, and aged in posh French barrels, can unexpectedly turn on you without a backward glance.   It can sail along for months, cheerfully exuding aromas of cherries and violets with just a hint of forest floor, then throw a hissy fit after a racking or a filtration it didn’t appreciate.  Suddenly, this Pinot, which was once an ethereal beauty, becomes a thin and weedy hag of a wine. 

This ugliness doesn’t last forever, thankfully, but while your Pinot takes its time deciding whether or not it’s ready to forgive you, a lot of hand-wringing and hair-graying happens.  As winemakers, we strive for an impossible balance in Pinot noir.  We try to create a wine which is flavorful yet subtle, pure yet earthy, muscular yet delicate.  It’s this balance that makes great Pinot noir spectacular.  When making Pinot, we glimpse perfection and then it slips away, it reappears, and then may or may not stay.  Eventually, the wine declares itself on one side of the line or the other:  the ideal attained, or just missed. 

Chasing Pinot Perfection can make a winemaker fear losing his nerve, or maybe his mind.  And yet, we are really talking about a difference of degrees.  En fin de compte, in the case of Pinot noir, we’re talking about the difference between delicious and sublime.  While it’s a cruel thing to attain near perfection, with Gewurztraminer, it’s a far graver situation.  In the case of Gewurz, it’s all or nothing.  

Gewurztraminer plays the same psychotic game of hide-and-seek with us that Pinot noir does, but it starts doing so in the vineyard.  Early on, the grapes turn rosy pink and look delicious long before they taste like anything.  We start asking, “Will we have Gewurz this year?” And we will ask that question a few dozen times over the course of the growing season.

In case you don’t know, we don’t release a Gewurztraminer every year.  Sometimes we go for a period of several years without producing a Gewurz.  Why?  Well, we make our Gewurz in a high-alcohol, low-acid style.  The texture is supple and the flavors are sumptuous.  This style is somewhat outré, but it works magnificently because of its onslaught of lychee and rose petal aromas.  Occasionally, there is a bit of nectarine, and there’s always some sort of hydrocarbon aroma (my mom calls it Kerosene wine).  If we were making an easy, breezy white quaffer, we could use any old Gewurztraminer grapes, but to achieve what we crave, we can’t get away with using grapes that are less than extremely ripe. Wispy suggestions of melon and citrus just wouldn’t do in a wine made in this style—this wine only makes sense when driven by an overload of fruit and floral aromas.  It’s meant to be a heady, hedonistic indulgence.   Trying to decide whether or not our grapes can produce the aromas we need in our wine is a torment. 

Please understand that the winemaking staff here at Fox Run has an abnormal love of Gewurztraminer.  We extol it.  We lust after it.  We stroll in the vineyard and dream of making and drinking the stuff.  We taste the grapes and debate whether or not we’re seeing Lychee.   Most wines synthesize their flavors during fermentation.  In the case of Gewurz, we get a preview of the flavor profile in the grapes.   Flavors in the grape skins will be in the finished wine, but if the flavors aren’t there to start with, guess what….  Insipid Gewurz is out of the question.  So, we walk, and taste, and hope and deliberate. 

“Will we have Gewurz this year?” 
“Definitely—I’m already seeing Lychee!”
“Afraid not, we’re not getting enough flavor.”
“Wait, maybe—let’s not make our minds up just yet.”
“Will we have Gewurz this year?”
“We’ll have to see.”

Patience is a virtue I’m hoping to acquire one day. 
In the event that the grapes do acquire enough flavor to merit being picked separately and treated to the ensuing laborious process of crushing, chilling, skin-contacting (you remember where all those flavors lie, right?), then finally pressing, racking, and inoculating, we find out that other hungry critters have been waiting and watching, too.  The deer and the turkeys quickly eat the ripening grapes off the vines as they reach peak maturity.  Now we battle whether or not we’ll have enough ripe grapes to make a reasonable volume of wine. 

            “Hmmm, doesn’t look good.  We’ll have to see.”

In the event that sufficient ripe grapes are picked to make a reasonable volume of wine, we have demonic flavor fluctuations ahead.  All wines go through phases—pleasant and not-so-pleasant on their way to completion, but none so volatile as Gewurz.  One day it’s full of lychee and apricot, the next day it’s nothing but silage.  Up and down, we ride            the sigmoid curve, praying we’ll land on an upturn and cursing the descents. 
“Wow, that’s gorgeous!”
            “Where has all the flavor gone?”
            “Will we have Gewurz this year?”

The misery continues through the winter, through the spring, time finally resolving the question around May or June.

                        “Do we have Gewurz?  Do we have to blend it away?”

Unlike Pinot noir, Gewurz is spectacular or bland.  In the latter case, it is a fine though innocuous addition to any number of blends, but can’t be its own wine.  When it’s spectacular, however, wow - what a wine.

Now you, dear reader, can join in the torment.  This lovely warm summer produced truly ripe fruit, at least in terms of sugar accumulation.  Flavor development in the Gewurz, for some evil reason, was lagging.  We debated and despaired, and finally, we found a sliver of hope:  lychee at last appeared in the past few weeks.  Would it be enough?  Did it come early enough to perfume the wine?  Would there be enough grapes left if we let them hang for just a bit longer?  After suffering all summer long, we have picked our small quantity of Gewurztraminer.  We crushed it yesterday afternoon.  Peter Bell, Peter Howe and Kelby are pressing it as I write this.  Today, there is plenty of flavor, but don’t get too comfortable yet—the question is nowhere near settled.  Now the nail-biting really begins.   We’ll keep you apprised.   Will there be Gewurz this year?  Please let the answer be “Yes”!

Hoping and wishing,
--Tricia, Assistant Winemaker

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wine Please, Hold the Eggs

With how much we've mentioned the huge time commitment and work schedule of vintage, it would be natural to wonder exactly what there is left to do in the winery after we harvest, crush, (punch down), and press the grapes.  Obviously there is nothing quite as urgent and time consuming in the coming weeks, but there is a lot that goes into making sure our new wine is staying happy and healthy.  Primarily this means we will all be checking sugar levels, temperatures, and looking/tasting for overall health in our wines every day at least until the fermentation process is complete and the yeast frozen out. 

In the immediate future, however, we are preparing to feed our yeast so they keep working without complaint.  After the yeast has fermented about 1/3 the available sugar into alcohol in wine ferments they begin to run out of necessary nutrients other than sugar that they are unable to make for themselves.  As they enter this period they start "stressing;" a unique piece of jargon which has nothing to do with a teenager cramming for an exam the night before... unless that teenager also starts to emit hard boiled egg aromas as they get more stressed out.  When we smell the beginning of these stressed aromas (variously described as hard boiled egg, scrambled egg, or sulfurous), or the fermentation has went through a third of the total sugar, we know it is time to feed our yeast the nutrients they need.

With white wines, those where the fermentation is occurring after pressing and therefor without skin contact, we feed our yeast a mixture of diammonium phosphate and a mixture known as Fermaid-K.  The former is to provide the crucial missing ingredient of nitrogen back to the yeast, the latter provides much smaller amounts of various other pieces the yeast and juice lack.  With red wines, where the fermentation is occurring with skin contact, we only worry about adding diammonium phosphate for nitrogen; as the skins and stems often provide the other components the yeast desire.  The result of this is, to an extent, distinctly new world insofar as our aim is to produce wines that are immediately "clean" (filled with aromas and flavors of fruit) and easier to control (not smelling of eggs).

All in all it is a straightforward process that is easy to predict the start of and even easier to carry out.  The only trick is making sure to be careful when adding anything to a white fermentation.  Since the fermentation is occurring in a large, stainless steel tank without interference, there is a large amount of dissolved CO2 that is ready to burst out of solution if given the opportunity.  Many are the stories of someone adding a granular slurry of diammonium phosphate or Fermaid-K to a white fermentation too quickly, only to end up covered in wine a few moments later.  No such luck this year at Fox Run, but we'll make sure to grab a photo of it if it happens.

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Insects, Holy Days and the Origins of Winemaking

The little-known Middle Eastern Enolonite tribe has recently been credited by historians and archaeologists with inventing the art of winemaking. This is their story.

Descendants of the prophet Gary, the ancient Enolonites wandered for years in a remote corner of Egypt, now the location of Hajid’s Used Camel and Mini Golf Emporium, trying to fulfill a prophecy that was written on a heavily smudged and greasy fragment of papyrus. A long series of droughts and crop failures made for a miserable quality of life.

In or about the year 883 BC, the date crop was, at long last, sweet and abundant. Just as tribe members prepared to sit down to a joyous feast, a swarm of ravenous, tiny flies blackened the sky. Modern day scientists have confirmed that these were members of Drosophila melanogaster.

The Common Fruit Fly:
An electron microscope image of the head of a fruit fly.
The swarming plague of fruit flies seemed to have come out of the north, and tribal elders came to see that there was nothing to be lost by following their cloud, despite bitter complaints by those without handkerchiefs to cover their faces.

Preparing for Fruit Flies:
During Rosh Drosophila, Enolonite tribeswomen don waterproof yellow prayer shawls, eschew mascara, and carry a ceremonial branch from the sacred Preshawasha Tree.
Successive generations of the pesky insects led them ever northward, until at last they reached the fertile plains of Mesopotamia. No seas parted or anything, which is why their story never made into any holy book, but it was nevertheless a dramatic and arduous journey. The average tribe member went through six to seven pairs of sandals.

It was in Mesopotamia that the Enolonites found freedom from persecution PLUS a bunch of really great things growing in the ground, including grapes. Winemaking soon followed, and before long this talented tribe began cranking out some seriously high-scoring reds and whites.

And it was all thanks to Drosophila!

Today, the descendants of the Enolonites are found in mostly rural regions throughout the temperate world: a remarkably successful Diaspora. In the tradition of their forebears, tribe members continue to practice the ancient art of winemaking, and their highest of Holy Days, occurring each year in early October, is known as Rosh Drosophila.

 A Feast Fit for Kings:
The traditional meal during Rosh Drosophila includes nuts, fruits, some bitter crunchy stuff, and partially leavened grape juice. Following a hearty round of chanting, the first to be asked to partake are always the Drosophila themselves: their six-day lifespan means that they are often on a tight schedule. 

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Different Kind of Winery Meal

As the days undeniably begin to grow shorter now, there is a distinct benefit to the hours we’re working during vintage.  Some winemakers are naturally night owls (or regressive teenagers) and work until the wee hours of the morning before starting the next day around noon, a schedule that suits their sleep habits and the massive quantity of work to be completed.  With Peter as the head honcho at Fox Run, however, there is no doubt that every day during vintage is likely to begin between 6:00am and 7:00am so we can finish before 10:00pm even on our busiest days.  Early to be sure, but it does result in my seeing the sunrise and sunset every day.

Morning Has Broken
Cutting past the cliches, sunrises are stunning.

Another treat during vintage that is easier to appreciate, however, are our evening meals together.  The vintage dinner has been mentioned a few times already, but it probably deserves its own post given how much attention we actually pay to it here.  The solution for this has become a highly-anticipated institution during vintage; all of us come together in the winery for a sit-down meal and fine wine as a break in the action. 

The dinner certainly fulfills a very functional role for all of us working. During those long 12+ hour days the thought of having to drive home and still prepare dinner is daunting - let alone getting ready for bed, which is the only thing on anyone’s mind at that point.  Moreover, for Pete and myself, there is a distinct need for calories come dinner time after we’ve spent the day running around the winery and lifting.  I think the calorie need is so that we can keep up physical work for a few more hours, though my mom would be the first to note the real problem is that, “You’ve always been cranky when you’re hungry, even since you were a small baby we knew!”

More than the need for the meal, however, is the pleasure we take in having one period of the year where we can eat together, talk about new ideas, and laugh about any mishaps during the day.  In this regard the vintage dinner helps solidify the feel of the winery as a surrogate family for us all during harvest, when we spend 90% of our waking hours in the winery and away from home.  It also gives us an excuse to break out special bottles of wine that we’ve been waiting for the right company to try with; sometimes aged bottles of Fox Run wine, sometimes fine beers, I even brought in a few wines from my travels in New Zealand back in April that I had specifically chosen with vintage in mind.

Then there is the food aspect of the dinner, no small detail given how much all of us enjoy cooking (I would say “enjoy eating,” but that only applies to the A-game appetite Pete and I bring to the table).  For the most part we are privileged to go down to the café in the tasting room and get a selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches for our dinner.  On rare occasions the chef has something special to send our way, such as a rack of lamb he had specially marinated for us.  Sometimes a friendly staff member from the tasting room or café volunteers to bring us dinner, such as the fantastic stuffed shells, salad, and applesauce Jackie and Dan brought to us last week or the wonderful vegetable lasagna that Ruth provided us an earlier evening.  For a few weeks we even dabbled with grilling some of our own food, an excellent option when there is enough time to justify one person manning the grill.

Life Isn't So Bad...
...Especially for Max, who would manage to snag one of the lamb pieces when we weren't looking.

After our nice meal, wine, and company it is quickly back to work most nights.  But with good music put on for the occasion and a full belly, the nip in the air doesn’t phase us.

By: Kelby Russell, Winery Team

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Riesling: Everybody Is a Star / I Love You For Who You Are

Almost all of our Riesling, fifty tons of it, has been harvested and is on its way to becoming wine. Previous posts have made mention of this grape’s ability to ramp up the excitement level in the winery. Riesling is our bread and butter (no reference here to the way it tastes), and the prospect of beginning another round of Riesling production makes us all giddy and joyous.

On our property, there are eight distinct plantings of Riesling on at least three soil types. As much as it would be convenient to bulk up the juice from these blocks into a couple of large tanks, doing so would eliminate, in one fell swoop, the possibility of making eight distinct tanks of wine. (Our largest format tank has attracted the nickname Bubba, but it might as well be called The Great Homogenizer. It tends to get used for things like Arctic Fox.)

Riesling, From Beginning To End
Four iterations of Riesling (left to right): Juice as it comes from the press, full of solids; juice after settling and racking; wine in its early stage of fermentation, showing cloudiness from yeast cells; finished wine after filtration.

At the most basic level, we need to steer our Rieslings into two styles: Dry and Semi-Dry. Sales of the latter are generally about double those of the former. That alone means we have to have at least two production streams. But winemakers, inveterate tinkerers that we are, love experimenting with different yeast strains, different fining agents, different fermentation temperatures, and whatever else we think might add complexity and interest. Add those practices to the more obvious need to see what our different soils have been up to this year, and it’s easy to see why we end up with many small tanks of Riesling.

By: Peter Bell, Winemaker

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Tricia's First Weekly Update!

N.B.  Tricia's entries will appear regularly on Fridays; a deadline this post technically makes (if not in the spirit we intended).  Make no mistake, Tricia completed this post much earlier in the day, but due to all the work happening that she mentions below I fell flat on getting it up until now.  Enjoy!

So, today I blog.  Anyone who knows me intimately, or has tried to communicate with me via e-mail or cell phone, knows I may be the least likely blogger in the Finger Lakes.  My girls say I repel technology.  My cell provider has stopped calling to suggest I upgrade my ancient phone--I think I finally made it onto the Hopelessly Prehistoric list.

In fact, some readers may not believe I am writing this post myself, but I am.  Why?  I agreed initially because Kelby, being bright, young and technologically-savvy, assured us that people want to know what is going on here during vintage and, like Horton the Elephant, he has shown us that you are out there and you are interested.  To my surprise, I am finding that I am thrilled to be able to tell you about some of the things we have been working on this past week--it has been a Finger Lakes Winemaker’s dream. 

On Saturday the 2nd, we crushed some beautifully ripe Lemberger and Cabernet franc.   Because we brought in all of our Lemberger—more than 15 tons--we had plenty of material to play with.  Being curious winemakers, we set up several trials.  Some fermentations are progressing with an addition of oak chips—some toasted, some raw—to see how fermentation in the presence of oak affects the mouthfeel and potentially the color stability of the finished wine.   We also set up trials to examine what happens to the color and the texture of the wine when we add various tannins at the beginning of fermentation.  The hard part is waiting for the wines to finish fermenting so we can get some early indication of how the treatments will affect our wine now and make predictions about how the wines will age. 

Then things got really exciting:  On Saturday night, Peter Bell, Peter Howe, and Kelby stayed late to press Lemberger rosé.  The grapes slated to become rosé had been crushed in the morning and the juice was kept on its skins and seeds until nighttime.  When the juice picked up a beautiful magenta-pink color, the fellas made the call to press.  It’s fermenting slowly but steadily, and is already showing a range of exotic flavors.  Right now, it reminds me of pomegranate, blackcurrant and raspberry---really delicious!  Rosé used to be winemakers’ closely kept secret.  Consumers saw pink wine and thought it would be sweet and simple, and weren’t really interested in rosé as a category.  Then they found out that the best examples are brilliantly balanced between white and red wine in terms of texture, and have pretty berry aromas plus something earthy, which makes the wine interesting rather than simple.  Of course, now we winemakers have to share our rosés with the world, but we’re actually quite happy to do that.  We’ve been perfecting ours over the last few years.  Small-scale trials led to a small-scale commercial production—just a few cases last year.   The public’s reaction was tremendous—we created instant rosé fanatics, and those who tried it last year have been begging for a 2010 version.  Happily for all, it is on its way.  Just that darned waiting thing again….

The next torment will be waiting to taste the Lemberger Port.  Just a few days of fermentation gave us a Port with plenty of juicy goodness with enough wine character to be entrancing to grownups.  Yesterday, it got a quick pressing and fortification and into barrels it went for a long winter’s nap. 

Monday’s highlight was a trip through the vineyard in the chilly rain with Kelby and Mackenzie. Despite frozen fingers and dripping faces, we cheerily collected Riesling grapes from every plot where they grow on our 54 acres of vineyards.  We inspected the blocks for Botrytis—hoping to see the good version (Noble Rot) rather than the bad (bunch rot!)  We found our grapes still in great shape and touches of excellent Botrytis. Back at the winery, we crushed the samples and tasted them.  Kelby and John Kaiser (our vineyard manager) are putting together a database of information on each of the blocks on our property to track everything from botrytis levels to harvest chemistries to tasting notes.

On Wednesday, we bottled our 2009 Cuvée.  The then-still wine went into bottles with a dose of yeast to referment.  We’re one step closer to finished sparkling wine!  We’ve laid the bottles down in dark bins, where they will stay for another year.  By then, the yeast will have contributed a little more alcohol and their lovely bubbles as well as some creamy textural elements.  I can’t wait! 

Yesterday we crushed and pressed about half of our Riesling.  We were nearly done when the power went out, forcing a delay.  The lull provided us the opportunity to sneak off to the tasting room where our brand new Executive Chef, Jarrod Crytzer, was hosting his first tapas evening.  We feared a disaster—no electricity, no cooking, no lights, maybe no guests?  Peter Bell said, “Poor guy!” just as we opened the door to the dark tasting room.  To our delighted surprise, candles were glowing merrily on tables, guests were chatting in cozy huddles, the food had been prepared before the power quit and it was exquisite.  We were met with cheers of “Look who it is!” as our bedraggled and grape-juice coated group entered their midst.  “You have to try this:  pumpkin crème brulée paired with Drink New York Riesling!  It’s unbelievable!”  And it was.  Kelby had tipped me off to the surprising match earlier in the afternoon.  Peter Bell and Kelby had gone to the tasting room the afternoon before to make sure that the perfect wines were selected to complement the food, and to be sure the food complemented the wines selected.  We were delighted with the unexpected opportunity to drop in during the tapas event and are eagerly anticipating the next one.  Eventually, the lights came on, and we went back up the hill to finish our winemaking work for the night. It was a late one for the guys.  I got a dispensation around nine to get home to my fabulous girls.  I miss them a lot on these long days.    

Today, we are crushing and pressing more Riesling.  Nothing could make me happier. 

So there you have it:  a week filled with making our favorite wines: every style of Riesling, Port, sparkling wine, and rosé.  What could be better?  Of course, the theme seems to have been hurry up and wait.  The hurrying is easy. 

Thanks for tuning in, or whatever hip word you use in the blogosphere.  I can feel my daughter’s eye rolling from 26 miles away.  “Please stop saying, ‘hip’, Mom.  I’m begging you.”  I’ve heard it often.  I’ll get there—blogging is my first nanostep into the current century.  Better late than never.   

À la prochaine,


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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who Wants To Punch Down?! ...Anyone?!

Punching down: a harvest activity that inspires the same type of romantic, Tuscan shared-rememberings as stomping grapes.  Much like foot-stomping, punching down is also a physically exhausting and time consuming activity that feels distinctly unromantic when you are the one tasked with it.  Unlike foot-stomping, however, punching down has not been effectively replaced in most wineries by modern equipment.

A Cellar Hand's Muse?
A welch bin filled with ~0.75 tons of Lemberger for punching down

Here at Fox Run, Punch downs are necessary for red grapes due to how we handle them following harvest. Where the white grapes are destemmed, crushed, and immediately sent off to be pressed so that the juice may be inoculated with yeast; red grapes are destemmed, crushed, and then sent back to open-top bins and tanks to begin fermenting on their skins.   Over the course of the week or more that the red grapes are fermenting to dryness, this skin contact (as well as contact with seeds and any stems) results in extraction of color, tannin, and flavors that we want in the wine.

Break On Through/To The Other Side
The front corner shows a portion of the cap having been punched down.
Unfortunately, as all of this extraction is occurring in a tank of fermenting juice, the skins and seeds rise to the top during this time and form a ‘cap’ over the liquid.  To keep the fermenting liquid in contact with these solids, which are often so compacted that they are entirely dry, we manually have to break the cap and push the skins back down into the liquid at least three times a day.  What at first may seem like fun, 15 minutes later is tiresome and blurs the line between a cardiovascular and muscular workout.

We're Going To Need a Larger Punch-Down Tool
Our two red fermenters (and the ladder up to the top cross-beams), which each hold up to four tons of crushed grapes.
Personally, I started a lifting regimen in May for the express purpose of being prepared for this aspect of vintage due to the method by which I punch down bins.  One popular method involves standing on top of the bins and using your full body weight behind the punch down tool to break the cap and stir the mixture.  At least for the 1-ton bins, however, I prefer to stand next to them and rely on upper body strength to push the punch down tool through the cap.  There is almost no risk of falling into the bins this way, but most important is that it puts almost no strain on the lower back. 
The Easy and Potentially Wet Method
Pete Howe demonstrating the 'punch down from above' technique.
With our large (4-ton) red fermenters, however, there is no choice but to stand on the large cross-beam over the top in order to punch down.  Due to the larger volume of grapes the cap is significantly thicker, so even with your body behind the punch down tool it can be an exhausting 20 minutes just to take care of each tank.  To be honest, this is the one part where punching down can be substituted for mechanically; setting up a pump from the liquid on the bottom up over the cap on top saves a lot of trouble.  

Dizzying Heights (or CO2)
Punching down through the much larger cap on Cabernet Franc from on top of a red fermenter.

For the time being, however, Pete Howe and I are managing well enough without rolling out the beast of a pump necessary for pumping over instead of punching down.  We’ve made it past Pinot Noir and are now into Lemberger, but the Bordeaux reds may end up pushing us past our limit.  Stay tuned to see if we can last through the whole vintage.

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
  • tUnE-yArDs - BiRd-BrAiNs; "Fiya" (the ending two minutes has to include one of the most remarkable, un-singable by most, hooks I've heard):

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Midway Through Vintage

The period known to winemakers as Vintage, or in the local vernacular Crush, is generally a blur of work lasting about six or eight weeks. Vintage starts when the first grapes arrive at the winery, usually in mid-September (though this year we started in late August). Vintage ends, sometime in November, when the last load of red wine is pressed out.

Our intense workload, described in previous posts, has been moderated somewhat today, following a frantically busy few days getting five separate lots of Pinot noir wine pressed out and 15 tons of Lemberger into the fermenters. No grapes on the crush pad today, but plenty of quotidian tasks to perform: manually punching down the fermenting reds, checking the progress of the fermentations, filling barrels, and staying in touch with our vineyard manager and the fellow we hire to machine-pick our grapes.

Pete Howe is no dope, but it is unclear who gains from 
the arduous task of punching down lemberger bins.

Up in the lab, our whiteboard – indisputably the most stared-at thing ever to adorn a wall after the Mona Lisa – not only tells us what’s in all the tanks but serves as a repository for our running to-do list. Today’s reminders, most of them rather cryptic:

  • Inoc PN MLF
  • Bottling line training and safety protocol
  • Chard cuvee initial Brix 1.4
  • Car service Tuesday after 6 pm
  • Biolees trial
  • Flex tanks Tues
  • Samples for Nick @ Cornell
  • Dip 10” / 414 gal -->
  • Inoc Rosé Mon. pm GRE
  • Sadie

In case you’re wondering, Sadie is the name of Tricia’s older daughter’s new dog.

By: Peter Bell, Winemaker

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Friday, October 1, 2010

An Update from our Newest Intern

N.B.  Tricia Renshaw, our lovely assistant winemaker here at Fox Run Vineyards, is swamped with bulk inventory record keeping today.  As much as she would rather be writing a blog post, we are fortunate our newest inter Mackenzie volunteered to step in and tell you all what we're up to.

Hello everyone.  My name is Mackenzie and I am an intern here at Fox Run Vineyards. I am currently a sophomore at Finger Lakes Community College in the Viticulture and Wine Technology program. This past summer I worked in the vineyards here at Fox Run learning how to manage and take care of vines. The experience was great, but I have come to find that being a vineyard manager is not the career for me. I’m currently working in the winery, helping out with the everyday tasks. So far I have really enjoyed my experience and have learned many new things that I can take back and use in my Enology class.

Today is a pretty quiet day. This morning I coated two barrels in a seal called Barrel Guard. This makes them water resistant and also preserves their appearance. Currently Kelby and I are transferring 2009 Lemberger out of a Flex tank into a stainless steel tank. The reason for doing this is so we can have a bigger blend. Next we are going to spray ball the Flex tank and put some 2010 Pinot Noir in to age. 

By: Mackenzie, Fox Run Intern

Music of the Day:

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