Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Update From The Deep South: Harvest is Over!

By:  Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team Member from afar

Greetings once again from the Down Under's Down Under, Tasmania!  Home of wallabies, platypuses (platypi?), freakishly large moths, and birds that only sound quaint in name until their screeching calls awaken you before sunrise.  If kookaburras do congregate around 'the old gum tree,' as the sing-song rhyme would benignly have us believe, then I would seriously consider supporting the otherwise destructive logging industry here.

As hard as it may be to believe in the cool and rainy spring the Finger Lakes have been having, on the other side of the world the fall harvest is now wrapping up and winter's approach is undeniable.  By no stretch of the imagination does it get "Finger Lakes cold" here in Tasmania, the climate is moderated far too much by proximity to the ocean for that to be a concern.  As a matter of fact, I have yet to break out any of the cold weather clothes I brought with me other than for early morning runs.  There are often frosts in the morning, but the afternoons still get too "warm" (mid-50s) to justify wearing my thermals even when all the locals are bundled up as if a blizzard were on the horizon.

With the moderate climate Tasmania is blessed with, most wineries that I have visited are very much outdoor operations.  In the summer there is little worry that temperatures will soar beyond what the tank coolant systems can handle, and in the winter the average temperature is nearly perfect for wine storage and tolerable for cellar staff to be working outside in.  It is for the same climatic reasons that I imagine many homes here do not have insulation, an utterly regrettable decision regardless of cost savings: Will you freeze if your house gets into the 40s at night?  No.  Will you be miserable?  Absolutely.

The two times having the wines outside does become problematic, however, both occur during the late fall and early winter.  The first is that, even if the temperature is moderate, winter rain and wind are cold and slick to work in while undertaking important cellar tasks.  The second, more concerning, problem with having the winery outside is that those cold temperatures, wind, and rain can wreak havoc during the most crucial phases of post-harvest winemaking.

To wit, at the winery I work at, we have several rotary fermenters that hold nearly 25 tons of fruit three stories overhead for fermentation and easy color extraction.  As frightening as the machines are, it is undeniably true that - when handled appropriately - it is far easier to mix the fruit in the equivalent of a cement mixer than to plunge it all by hand.  Since the fermentation of the fruit also occurs in the vessels, maintaining the appropriate temperature for the fermentation is also an issue... a rather large issue when ambient temperatures never even reach the starting temperature range the yeast would like.  Also rather worrisome are the 30 degree nights with cold rain and wind lashing the fermenters as the yeast inside would prefer to be left alone to finish their business at a balmy 80 degrees.  The solution here is to use mobile heating units to keep the ferments happy and healthy, but it is certainly quite a bit of monkeying around.

It goes without saying that the idea of having the majority of a winery outdoors in the Finger Lakes is ridiculous, even if we do keep a few tanks outside to allow mother nature to cold stabilize our wine on the cheap.  While it might not be quite as absurd a proposition here in Tasmania to have your winery outside, I wouldn't criticize anyone here for looking into putting a roof overhead (or insulation in their walls!).

Music of the Day:
  • Cut Copy - Zonoscope; "Need You Now" (It's an Australia/Finger Lakes mash-up! Australian band, but a great song for the start of summer):

Support Artists, buy the music you like!

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