With the fun and work of vintage behind us, now is the time that we have to have courage in our convictions at the winery. By this point in the year (i.e. three weeks after the completion of vintage) when we are asked a question regarding the 2010 vintage we almost resemble a high school debate team; ask about the Finger Lakes 2010 Harvest and we can tear off an answer from rote in record time. Ironically, it is precisely this time of year that we also happen to lose our ability to really track how our wines are doing.
This is not to say that our thoughts on Vintage 2010 are glib. Based on the available information, which we feel is only useful after all the grapes are in, we are happy to provide our estimation of how everything will look as these wines are released and opened. Nevertheless, in the winery we are now faced with an annual twist in winemaking that keeps us humble: the Thanksgiving slumber.
In her post on Gewürztraminer, Tricia briefly mentioned that one of the many times that leaves us doubtful in gewürztraminer’s development actually occurs after the harvest. The wine seems to go into a quiet funk, losing much of the lychee, rose, and fruit precociousness that made it so endearing mere weeks ago. What does it smell like it instead? Well, nothing, to be frank.
While we have seen this happen to our gewürztraminer already, it is a phenomenon that occurs with all of our aromatic white wines. Just as many of us will be doing after a large turkey dinner in a few days time, the rieslings, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer have all decided to take a snooze. These wines will not wake up from their nap for quite some time, however, and in the meantime will send us into fits in the winery wondering whether everything is all right.
This is where the courage part comes into the equation. During the fermentations of these wines we are constantly tasting everything and noting the beautiful aromas present in them at that stage. While this process is enjoyable, the primary purpose is to evaluate how the fermentation is progressing and ensuring nothing is compromising the wine. The other purpose of this tasting, however, is just as important; to get an early feel for what style of wine each block of grapes in each tank is best suited for.
Particularly as our rieslings are fermenting, when we taste we are taking note of the flavors in the wine and how they match up with its structure - especially the acid profile. With a softer and rounder riesling proto-wine, we start to think of our semi dry program and the slightly more tropical and tree fruit flavors we find complement that level of sugar. With a riesling that is lean and electric in its acidity, we lean more towards our dry program and the citrus driven flavors we appreciate with a lower level of sugar.
Based on this tasting we eventually decide when to end the fermentation of our individual blocks of grapes and thus how much sugar will be left in each. It is at this point that we then lose the guiding light of those beautiful flavors. By chilling the wine down to 28 degrees fahrenheit for a week and then adding sulfur, we arrest the fermentation and then kill the yeast. Trying to taste the wine at this point to find the flavors we hoped to lock into it is fruitless (your call whether it is the loss of fruit flavors or that terrible pun that is most unfortunate). To me, the wine smells and tastes flat even though the structure remains. Maybe there are hints of banana, but this aroma reminds me more of the suspended-solids character of a nice hefeweizen rather than the wine we wanted.
And with that we enter the winter, having to trust our decisions and our noses back when we decided to stop the fermentation. This trust gnaws away at us in the coming weeks as the continuing lack of fruit flavors begin to worry us, even though we know and expect this to happen. How was vintage 2010? It was fantastic, but right now we would appreciate it if some of those wines decided to agree.
By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team
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