Category Archives: Vintage Notes

Harvest 2015: Wrap Up

This week marks the end of harvest here in New York for me. We only have a few vineyards left to pick. All of the vinifera was safely in the door week before last and now the tanks are going through fermentation. The photo above is one of the Pumpovers on my first Cabernet Franc from the area. There were several key surprises that I have been intrigued by. 

1) The berry size is almost twice what I am used to seeing. 

2) The sugar is dramatically lower than other areas. This was somewhat expected being in a cool climate but the reality is definitely a change from my previous Cab Franc experiences. 

3) There are minimal bell pepper flavors. This was very exciting suggesting the sugar ripeness issue may be dealing with crop load rather than environmental issues since the flavors are ripe. 

4) Cabernet Franc Rose is amazing!!!! I’m very excited about my Rose this year 

5) The Riesling is as good as I remember and I’m very happy to report that both of my Rieslings look very promising at this stage. One is through fermentation and the other is almost finished. 

The Cabernet Franc is almost dry so we are still managing the cap there but backing off at this point. It has been a challenging year but they all are to some extent here. I’m excited to be back and invigorated with the challenges and surprises I’ve seen this year. I can’t wait to see how the wines turn out! 

Ningxia Winemaker Challenge: Part 1 – Harvest 2015

 Every now and then I like to push myself out of my comfort zone just to keep myself from being too comfortable in any single situation.  This trip was so far out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t even in the same ballpark with it anymore.  I did not know what to expect and since the details of what would happen when I arrived were quite fuzzy, I was going on pure blind faith that everything would be taken care of.  I shouldn’t have worried at all.   This was an experience like none that I have ever been a part of.  The first few days were spent in the company of my fellow Challenge winemakers, 48 of us in all.  As a group, we represent almost every major winemaking country, with varying experiences, languages, and careers.  Everyone was super friendly and, as is usually the case with winemaking types, extremely passionate about wine and grapes.  I had great conversations during these first days where we toured the Ningxia Provence by bus, visiting several wineries as well as our vineyard that we would be working with.

 The selection ceremony came and each winemaker was paired with a partner winery and selected a vineyard block.  This was done by random selection.  I was extremely lucky with my pick.  I am paired with a winery called Lansai.  The winery itself is small by local standards but elegantly designed and stays true to the spirit of China with very traditional architecture, statues and reliefs of mythological and symbolic Chinese figures cranes, lions, birds, and of course the dragon, which is the most prominent of the symbols and was chosen to bring power to the winery. Even though the winery is not finished it has a powerful feel to it, as though the building stands in comfortable harmony with the land even though it makes such a strong statement on the landscape.

I decided to pick on Friday, September 25th, earlier than most of my contemporaries but there was 3 days of rain coming the next week and I had no time to waste given that I was flying home on October 3rd.  If there is one thing I know from my years of winemaking, it is that 3 days of rain does not improve anything in wine quality that close to harvest.  I was able to sort quite strictly at both the cluster and berry level. Ten percent of the fruit did not make the cut.  The resulting juice was easy to work with and extracted quite nicely without the use of enzymes which so many people seem to rely on for fermentations.  I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find the winemaking supplies that I normally use in the US, but it turns out that the suppliers have great representation in the region and I was able to find everything that I needed.  The winery is very well equipped with both heating and cooling capabilities on all the tanks, a luxury which I have not had previously.  The analysis was good from the sorted fruit and I am very happy with how the wine turned out.  I was able to press off one tank at dryness before I left and am very pleased with the texture of the tannin.  The seeds were quite green still so I wanted to minimize any harsh extraction while still providing great structure for the wine.
 I had other great adventures while making the wine.  I tried a Durnian fruit for the first time, and probably the last because the smell was almost too much for me to take.  I celebrated the Chinese holiday, Middle Moon, with my Chinese host family who have welcomed me in with open arms and have supported my efforts for making the best quality wine with amazing enthusiasm.  I have sampled much of the local food, minus anything spicy, and can report that it is delicious.  In particular, I am in love with the egg based Chinese crepe that is served for breakfast here.  I have already found a recipe and if it is successfully similar I will share it.

I returned from China yesterday and although I am a bit jet lagged still, I am happy that I have been able to participate in this incredible journey.  I have left the wine in the capable hands of the Lansai winemaker, a young man named Mr. Wu, with detailed instructions on what to expect in the next few months before I head back to Lansai in February.  All I can do is hope for the best and continue to make the most out of this incredible experience.

Harvest 2015-Weeks 5&6: Recap

These past two weeks have been quite hot and dry for this area. Highs around 90 and very few cool nights. We just had rain over the weekend but I can’t speculate how much as of yet. Fall showed up yesterday bringing cloudy skies and blustery winds. The trees are starting to let the green fade away to be replaced by Crimson, orange and yellow.  The vinifera are ripening quickly spurred on by the heat. TAs are dropping more quickly than I remember as well. It makes me worried that the fruit that I thought would be ready in October will be ready while I am away in China. 

Speaking of China, I am supposed to leave this Thursday but am still waiting on flight confirmations. I have my visa now so if I can get flights I am set. 

This looks to be a great year for reds in the Finger Lakes. The Cabernet Franc we are picking for Constellation was one I was concerned about earlier in the year but after visiting the vineyard on Friday I am encouraged that I will be able to make some very nice wine. So much on the weather in the next 3-4 weeks as it always does this time of year. 

Cabernet Franc over Keuka on Friday. 

Meanwhile I am counting my blessings that we moved when we did. Napa and Lake counties are experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory. Thousands of people have been displaced by the Valley Fire and with 50,000 acres burned or burning as of last night it can only be described as devastating. I’m sure vineyards that I used to work with in the proximity of Middletown are probably gone. It is so sad and heartwrenching to see the photos. While Napa itself remains mostly unscathed, the smoke is hanging in the air which I know can be challenging for daily life, much less winemaking. My prayers go out to everyone affected and the Firefighters that are courageously  trying contain this monster fire.