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.

 

 

Blaufrankisch at the start of veraison

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.

How to Open a Sparkling Wine Bottle with a Broken Cork

This has been an interesting week.  I found myself with a serious problem.  I had chilled a bottle of sparkling wine to have handy if we found ourselves in need of some bubbles.  We normally have at least one in the fridge at all times.  Having just finished our chilled split of Ruffino Prosecco the night before, we didn’t currently have anything open.  My mother in law is in town and she likes to occasionally have a glass of wine with dinner, so I decided to open the next bottle of sparkling wine, a CA sparkling which shall remain nameless due to the issues it caused.

It started like any other sparkling wine opening.  Peel the foil, un-hook the cage, cautiously reposition bottle so one hand is on the top and the other is able to twist the bottom of the bottle.  Normally what happens at this point with a properly chilled bottle of bubbles is that the cork gently pushes out with a quiet “pssssst” and we go on our merry way.  This time the cork didn’t budge.  It didn’t even move a bit!  I gently twisted, then twisted a bit more and out came the cork but no hiss.  Suddenly I realized that only the top part of the cork had twisted off, leaving the small compressed bit inside the bottle of wine.  Several scenarios went through my head, none of them are advisable under normal circumstances and all come with a level of danger that I would not recommend to any person.  Remember, sparkling wine bottles are a grenade in glass and I had just pulled the pin.  I quickly took the bottle outside in our back yard to prevent unnecessary damage to our home and then set about working on getting the bottle open.

  1. Pull the cork out with a corkscrew?

No! This puts your hands and face directly in the path of the pressure coming from the bottle and is extremely dangerous.  Not even I was that crazy!

2.  Try to dislodge the cork by shaking the bottle.

In theory, this should have worked.  I pointed the bottle away from anything and anyone which could have been injured and shook vigorously.  However, I was unsuccessful.

3. Bang the base of the bottle on something hard to dislodge the cork.

I’ve seen this work for still wines so why shouldn’t it work for sparkling.  I fully expected the cork remnant to come flying out.  This was not the case and after denting our stairs, much to my husband’s chagrin since he just built them, I decided to reconsider.

At last I was left with no other option.  I could only saber the bottle open.  There was only one problem.  I had never had the guts to saber one open before.  Of course, like any good wine professional, I knew the theory behind how to make it work but had never actually done it.  I stocked up on safety gear such as safety glasses, an oven mitt, and my apron to protect from flying shards (or at least that’s what I told myself).  I found our large chopping knife and then the seam on the bottle. I turned around to see my mother in law, son, and husband filming me.  Fabulous! If I’m going to die, I might as well get it on video.  I turned my eyes back to the bottle, placed the knife, and prayed.  As I sliced up the neck, along the seam created by the mould, and hit the finish of the bottle.  Off it popped and flew across the lawn. I had successfully solved the problem and my mother in law had her bubbles for the evening!  However DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

​​