Category Archives: Winemaking

Anything having to do with wine production

And The Winner is…

I have just returned from the last trip to China as part of the second Ningxia Winemakers’ Challenge.  This final trip was so much fun because we were able to finally meet up with the other winemaker contestants, most of whom I had not seen since the first trip in September of 2015.  We spent a few days in Yinchuan, attending government events and the annual Wine Expo.  After that, we all flew to Beijing for the final judging and awards ceremony.


Going into the judging, I was happy with my wine.  It reflected the challenging aspect of the competition but also was a testament to perseverance that was needed to adapt to the “challenge” aspects.  These included a total language barrier, limited time (in my case) to attend to the wine, non-standard vineyard practices, as well as social and cultural isolation particularly during the first few weeks during harvest.  The 10 judges were all professionals, led by China Agricultural University professor Ma Huiqin and Master of Wine Andrew Caillard.

They announced the silver medal winners first and I was surprised to hear Lansai called first!  I was so excited to have won a medal for this even after all the hard work and dedication of both myself and the winery team.  There were 10 total silver medals awarded with many of my favorite people joining me on the stage.


After another course of dinner, we finally learned the gold medal winners.  They were Justin Corrans of South Africa,  Tony Kalleske of Australia, Brent Trela, a fellow American, Slavina Stefanova of Sweden, and Sarah Williams of the UK.  Each and everyone of these amazing people were a pleasure to get to know and totally deserving of the highest honors.  I was so excited for everyone and there was lots of hugging and congratulations all around.


We finished out the night at the hotel bar catching up and reminiscing over our time in Ningxia.  On Wednesday, many winemakers traveled to other cities within China for the competition road show while I spent a few leisure hours in Beijing with my winery owner, Ms Zheng prior to boarding my flight home.  We are in harvest already and I didn’t want to miss too much of it.


See the full coverage and complete list of judges and all the winners here.

 

 

2017 Harvest Update: Veraison

Finally, it has dried out.  I can walk in the vineyards and my back yard without worrying about sinking into a puddle.  Since my last update we have still had several more storms however it has not been everyday and we have at last seen a return to sun which gave us a few weeks of normal summer weather.  Despite this, the humidity has stayed very high and has caused growers to continue to be on their game with fungus sprays.  Downy mildew has been widespread this year.  This week brought many storms as a cold front moved through and now our forecast says nights in the 50s with highs in the 70s over the next week or so.  Luckily it is supposed to be relatively dry over the same period.  If this continues it should make up for the crazy rain from earlier in the “summer”.

The reds are just now going through veraison but many of the white hybrids are within a few weeks of harvest.  We are starting our Aurore harvest tomorrow for sparkling and we will continue almost constantly until mid-October.  The vinifera is very exciting this year with the cool nights.  It should be a beautiful year for acid assuming the rest of the fruit is clean.  If we get a moderately warm September with low rainfall and cool nights, this vintage could be spectacular.  It is still too early to tell but the vines are healthy.

Blaufrankisch at the start of veraisonBlaufrankisch at the start of veraison

I’m getting ready to crush Blaufrӓnkisch (Pronounced Blaw-fraan-kish) for the first time for the 240 Days Project.  I’ve never worked with this variety but I’m extremely excited about it for the Finger Lakes.  It is an Austrian variety, mainly grown in the Burgenland with characters similar to Syrah but with a Cabernet-like structure. Most of the local wineries call this variety Lemberger and many cite Blaufrӓnkisch’s challenging pronunciation as the reason to do so.  I have my own thoughts on this since we haven’t found another name for Gewürztraminer (Ge-vurz-tra-meen-er) yet and goodness knows that one is equally challenging.  Blaufrӓnkisch is a deeply colored variety that ripens a week to week and a half ahead of where Cabernet Franc ripens, making it very appropriate for our short growing seasons.  In anticipation of the small but fun project, I’m going to do something else I’ve never done; I’m going to ferment it in barrels.  That has necessitated me purchasing coopering tools, pictured below. These will help me remove the hoops and heads then retighten the hoops in order to be able to stand the barrels on their remaining head and dump in the harvested fruit.

Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.

This is something I had always wanted to do with the To Kalon fruit in Napa but we never got around to trying it before I moved.  I think the roundness of the palate of the Blaufrӓnkisch and the spicy character will pair nicely with the natural structure and complexity of an oak fermentation.  There will be challenges since these will need to be punched down rather than a pump over.  The early cap work I usually do during a red fermentation will be much harder.  I am considering getting a wader and punching down by foot but we’ll see.

Today, I’m off to China for the final trip of the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge. On August 29th we all find out how we did over the past two years.  This has been an incredible experience and one which I will remember forever.  I can’t wait to find out how the wine is received.

Redefining Ripeness

Way back when I firstRiesling started my blog, I covered the concept of ripeness.  What is ripeness and what do different winemakers look at to determine ripeness?  That was back in 2010 and I thought it would be good to cover the topic again given the almost 7 years in between.  In recent years ripeness has become a very hot topic of discussion.  I was in a tasting very recently with one attendee focusing on alcohol primarily and considering high alcohol a fault.  I know several other people who look a less than 14% on a red wine and consider it equally negative as the person who considers that too ripe.  Personally, I like to focus on flavor ripeness but, particularly in upstate NY, one doesn’t always get to decide if your fruit is ripe when a picking decision is made.

I’ve found myself redefining what “ripe” means.  I’ve made quite lovely wines from Brix levels that wouldn’t even be considered for frequent (2-3 times per week) berry sampling in CA.  Now more than ever, I am convinced that the key indicators of grape ripeness are less to do with one or two individual components and much more to do with multi-faceted aspects of vine maturity and grape composition.  Sugar, acid, tannin, flavor, color;  there is no perfect quantity of each of these aspects.  The intersection of each component which drives a picking decision in the mind of a winemaker is purely driven by a stylistic focus.

What this means really is that terroir alone can only take fruit so far.  You hear many winemakers, including myself, saying that they focus on capturing the terroir of a site.  What I have come to understand is that, in reality, what we all mean is that we are capturing the terroir as seen through the lens of our own internal concept of quality and style.

“There is no perfect quantity of each of these aspects.  The intersection of each component which drives a picking decision in the mind of a winemaker is purely driven by a stylistic focus.” 

So what does this mean?  It means that terroir can be enhanced or crippled by the constraints placed upon it by the winemaker making the call.  If one’s key focus is sugar ripeness then, as winemakers, we may loose some of the delicacy and elegance that is found a lower Brix levels.  If low alcohol is the key driver, then the power and grace of ripe tannins may be sacrificed.  If we are waiting for ripe fruit flavors to develop in the grapes, very often we have already lost precursors which would create different complex aromas which could only be unlocked through the fermentation process.  What I’m saying is that multiple winemakers can get fruit from the exact same vineyard however the translation of the terroir will be different depending on that individual winemaker’s concept of what the terroir should give them.  Each can make equally beautiful wines from a great site but the personality of those wines may be widely different and that is okay.

“What I have come to understand is that, in reality, what we all mean is that we are capturing the terroir as seen through the lens of our own internal concept of quality and style.”

This should not be a new concept but I see and hear so many people being so hooked on a particular style of wine that they are unable to even consider, much less enjoy, a different style that may be contrary to their own visions of what wine should be.  However, that is what makes this profession amazingly diverse.  That is why winemaking is a craft and that translation of terroir is unique to each winemaker/vineyard pairing.

I believe, we, as winemakers must understand that our own interpretation of the terroir of a particular site is not the only interpretation. Although we may have been or are making beautiful wines from them, this does not mean that our definition of ripe for particular grapes is the only definition of ripe.  There is no absolute right and wrong.  There are only multiple shades of stylistic definition. That, to my mind, is the most interesting aspect of this profession.

Do you feel terroir is absolute?  Is it possible to have only one distinctive style that is the correct one for a specific site?  Join the discussion below!