Monday, December 20, 2010

Late(r) Harvest Riesling Update

For those who remember Tricia's post on the late(r) harvest, block selected, riesling that we are making this year, I wanted to give a quick update on the progress of the wine.  This wine is a bit of a challenge to analyze given that we have never before made one in a low alcohol, higher sugar style, and thus do not have memory guideposts for how what we are sensing now will evolve down the road.  With that as forewarning, however, we hope others will share in the discovery of this wine with us as we explore how it goes in the Finger Lakes.  Here's where things stand as of last week:

  • Low Alcohol, High Sugar, Standard Fermentation:  This riesling finished fermenting to the point we desired quite awhile ago, at which point we put it in a small tank outside and threw on the chilling to arrest the fermentation.  When we had hit a certain level of sugar fermented in the wine, we began regularly checking the percent alcohol to make sure we hit a provisional target somewhere between 8% and 8.5% ABV.  Our belief is that we would have somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 grams per liter of sugar left in the wine left at those alcohol levels, which would hopefully be balanced out by the wine's natural acidity.  After halting the fermentation (back in early November) and then hitting the wine with sulfur to kill the yeast, we tested the sugar content and determined that our final amount in the wine was right at 63 grams per liter.  This wine is phenomenally exciting to us all at the moment; it has stayed pristine and clean, but the aromas and flavors are out of this world.  Crushed pineapple, blood orange, hyacinth, sandalwood, bergamot, and a whole range of other descriptors come to mind when we taste this to see how it is progressing.  Given the low alcohol and high sugar content of the wine, it naturally still tastes very much like juice at this stage - a reality we were expecting and prepared for.  The question will be what this becomes as the wine ages and the juiciness recedes!
  • Low Alcohol, High Sugar, Pied de Cuve Fermentation: Same fruit as for the wine above, but a small amount in a stainless steel container that we decided to ferment in a decidedly more Old World style.  Rather than inoculating the juice with a substantial amount of commercial yeast and then providing the yeast with nutrients to keep it fermenting happily away, this wine was inoculating with a much smaller amount of active yeast cells by transferring several gallons of an active riesling fermentation into the juice.  The result is a fermentation that takes much longer and that we intentionally chose not to feed; resulting in a different aroma profile and mouthfeel.  Believe it or not, this wine is still fermenting and is likely a week or so away from the target sugar/alcohol level we are aiming for (given the weather this time of year, however, it means that we will simply have to take the drum outside and let it sit for the temperature to fall low enough to halt the fermentation)!  In comparing it side-by-side to the wine above, it is certainly clear to us that the fruit for the two wines was the same.  Having said that, this wine is distinct and has complex aromas that we are still unsure about.  Are they a good sign?  A bad sign?  Simply a new sign due to an unfamiliar fermentation practice for us?  That remains to be seen, but it is certainly different.  
  • Dry Riesling:  From the same block of very special fruit, we decided to let a portion of the fermenting juice from the standard fermentation go all the way to dryness to see how the fruit lent itself to this style.  There is no way to get around the fact that the riesling was spectacular and, frankly, is not going to look bad in any style of wine.  Nevertheless, this dry version of the wine (which finished fermenting in mid-November, a week or so after the first wine mentioned above) is a fascinating comparison and could very likely become the Fox Run component of Tierce 2010.  The spice notes are still there, as are some of the orange fruits, but the crackling acidity and citrus profile of this dry riesling style simultaneously remind us of what we look for in Finger Lakes dry rieslings and remind us of flavors we have never associated with that style.  There is a breadth and weightiness to the fruit flavors that goes against the mineral driven and fleet style of what we usually consider a Finger Lakes dry riesling, but not in an unpleasant way.
The three wines coming from this small block of fruit that we were fortunate to be able to let hang this past autumn are distinct from one another, distinct from most anything else we have ever had in the Finger Lakes, and have only passing resemblance to riesling styles from elsewhere in winemaking world.  How will the low alcohol style progress as it ages from the beautiful, yet young/juicy, stage it is at now?  Will the pied de cuve fermentation be interesting or too interesting?  Is the dry riesling style a success or clumsy?  We were excited about starting this riesling project back during vintage, but the fact that it is spawning more questions than answers at this point makes us even more excited.

By:  Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
  • Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas; "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (featuring the original, and far better, lyric of "Through the years we all will be together/if the fates allow/until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."  How the "hang  your shining star upon the highest bow" version gained popularity boggles the imagination, it is almost a non sequitur in the context of that verse and takes away from the emotional punch!):

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