Monday, April 4, 2011

I Blame My Parents

by Stacy B. Brody, Rutgers Student and Enthusiastic Intern

You all know about Fox Run Vineyards, but you don’t know much about me. So I think I should fill you in a bit. I don’t have a complex or anything, I’m not going to go from my birth, day by day, hour by hour (though this is quite interesting and we really should discuss this), but I’ll give you a brief bio about me.

I’m a junior at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ. I have not seen “Jersey Shore,” I don’t like diners or malls and I’m not all too fond of the beach. I think I am from the wrong state. Perhaps I was switched at birth.

But such is life. My parents are winos, according to my grandmother, and I think I would have to agree. My parents go to wine festivals and wineries and tastings. I have been on more vineyard tours than I can remember. No wonder I am interested in the wine industry.

I study plant science and agriculture at Rutgers. We have no viticulture and enology program (even though the wine industry in NJ is growing fairly rapidly and must soon advance beyond the common blueberry, cranberry and apple wines), and I am very jealous of all the students at Cornell who are so lucky to have such a program.  I currently intern at Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, NJ.

I visited Fox Run on April Fools’ Day – no joke! I have been to many Finger Lakes wineries, as my dad went to Cornell and my mother has family near Ithaca, but I had never gone to Fox Run. I was up in Ithaca for a conference and wanted to also visit some of the wineries in the region. My boss at Unionville recommended visiting Peter Bell at Fox Run. A great recommendation. No joke.

When I arrived, we briefly discussed the use of sulfites in wine. As part of my internship, I have to write an essay. Is it not enough that I clean lees out of the tanks but I must also write an essay? My professor assigned the topic: sulfite use and possible alternatives. There is a lot of information out there on sulfites. And there is even more misinformation. There is no clear evidence for adverse effects from oral ingestion of sulfites in wine. Yes, inhalation of large doses of sulfur dioxide – not so good. But the sulfites in wine do not cause any major health effects. And the alternatives that researchers have come up with seem totally impractical: they may work in the lab, but they probably won’t work in the winery. I don’t see any winemakers going out to buy devices to pass electric currents through their wines. There are a number of other methods, all equally unlikely. Sulfites, used responsibly, protect the wine, control fermentation and aging, and extend storage life. Peter Bell, like all good winemakers, uses them responsibly to produce a stable product.

Stacy and her Pink Boots
We tasted a few wines: rieslings, pinot noir, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon. It still amazes me that there is so much diversity, not only among different grape varieties, but even among different wines from the same variety! I learned about the characteristic aromas and flavors in the different wines and some of the chemicals responsible. For instance, pinot noirs are lighter in color and are typically fruity and spicy. Apparently, I am a pretty skilled spitter. (Umm…is that a compliment? And can I put it on my resume?)

After that, I was put to work. Not complaining. The tank needed cleaning. There were lees and tartrate crystals lining the inside of the tank. I peeked my head inside and got lees in my hair. (Badge of honor?) Bordeaux Baritone could not clean this alone! Bordeaux Baritone is a high-energy former opera singer. I am still a bit unsure about his new business venture, but he plans to combine wine tasting and education with opera. Well, the best of luck to him.

Bordeaux Baritone
Anyhoo, back to business. The tank needed to be cleaned. I got my PINK rubber boots on and set to work. Bordeaux Baritone and I cleaned out all the gunk (that’s what the assistant winemaker at Unionville likes to call it) and rinsed off all the equipment. He and Peter also taught me how to throw things. Apparently this is a necessary skill for winemakers.

It makes sense. If your coworker asks you to throw something up to him or her when he or she is on top of a tank, you should be able to get it there on the first try (or at least the second). My throwing skills (unlike my spitting skills) are not up to par. See, my parents never put me in sports. My older sister hated tee-ball, so my parents were not about to force me into sports. I always dreaded phys. ed. in school. When I throw something, it doesn’t go very far at all, nor does it go in the intended direction. Definitely something to work on. So Peter and Bordeaux Baritone coached me a bit today at the winery using bungs as the projectile of choice. I got progressively better and impressed myself when I threw one over the catwalk to Peter. Gold star, Stacy!

After the tank and equipment were all clean, Bordeaux Baritone left for the day. Again, best of luck. Peter and I tasted barrel samples of various ports – different years and different grapes. I learned to distinguish between tawny and ruby ports. Whereas the first undergoes (controlled) oxidation and tastes more like dried fruits and butterscotch and caramel and toffee, the latter tastes strongly of jam. And the coloration is obviously different.

I had a great experience at Fox Run and am so grateful to Peter for taking the time to teach me about everything from sulfur chemistry to mouthfeel to ports. It was definitely worth the “hard work.”

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