By Tom Higgins, Finger Lakes Special Correspondent
As most wineries wrap up bottling before the harvest begins, waiting for the grapes to ripen on the vine can be a little stressful. There are several tasks which will keep one busy leading up to the arrival.
It is said that 80% of time spent winemaking is cleaning. Some wineries are so meticulous in cleaning, that you can literally eat an entire meal off of their floor. But cleaning happens throughout the entire winery: the floors, walls and doors. The tanks, the barrels, the hoses. The pumps, the presses the de-stemmers. The valves, the fermentation bins and the lab equipment. Really anything that the wine is going to touch should be sanitized and ready for use when those grapes are ready to come in. Cleaning takes a great deal of time (you clean up before, you process the grapes/wine, then clean up after), yet saves significant time and headaches down the road by helping you avoid spoilage.
Pre-Harvest is also a great time to research. There are hundreds of yeasts and malo-lactic cultures to choose from. Many of the cultures put weight in emphasizing different characteristics in the final wine (mocha, cherries, fuller mouth feel). These strains do not actually put these flavors in the wine; however, they have been shown to draw out these characteristics during fermentation. For example, if you know that the fruit from your site demonstrates more muscle than say, finesse, you would probably choose a strain that works well with bigger, muscular wines. If the grapes from your site show a little more fruit, then you would probably look for a strain to showcase the fruit in your wine.
Stocking up on chemicals for lab analysis ensures that supplies are on-hand and can reduce costly harvest mistakes. In one place I worked previously, the pH calibration solution was old and off by three tenths. This may not sound like that much, but consider the pH on a white wine is typically 3.1-3.4 and reds 3.3-3.6. Three tenths can make you do some pretty rash things if you’re just looking at the pure numbers of the wine.
Tasting wines from other producers and other regions can also provide better direction for decisions. Now, this activity does not have to be limited to just in-between the window of bottling and harvest. I also recommend that it not be done alone, either. You can study influence of oak, press fractions, stems, native yeast, etc. Usually it takes a follow-up call to the winemaker to learn more about what they did, but well worth it if you learn something that will make your wine just a little more interesting.
This can be the most frustrating harvest element of all, due to the simple fact that it is the least controllable. She can be wonderful at times and then turn around and ruin an entire harvest. Watching the forecast leading up to the picking can be gut wrenching and you can waste several hours playing with the animated radars guessing when the storm is going to hit you. And unfortunately, Mother Nature is the single biggest impact to making or breaking a harvest.
The Finger Lakes have a unique advantage due to the protection of the deep lakes. During the cool fall, the difference in air and water temperature produces lake effect clouds as you can see in this picture.
From Fíon: A day in the life…
Fíon, whose name comes from the translation of “Wine” in Old Irish, will share her thoughts:
Ahh, harvest is finally here. I love this time of year! My family is so busy focusing on those little round sweet things that I can go out on my own adventures and explore the world. This year it has been a little muddier than last. I haven’t been able to get my usual traction when chasing groundhogs off of the property. Also, I notice that when I return from my adventures, my family is a little more upset with my paws being brown instead of their usual bright white.
I love when those sweet little round things come in from the vines. Some of them end up on the floor and are left for me.* My all-time favorite is pinot noir. It’s wonderful smelling and licking all of the different kinds of fruit as each one has a unique aroma and taste.
In addition to cleaning the floors up, I have plenty of work to do. Yesterday, I scared three deer off the property. Whew, was I tired after that run. I ended up taking a little nap until I was awakened by some annoying Killdeer buzzing over my head. I also had to bark at some new people I didn’t recognize on the property just to let my family know that I’m doing my job and deserve a good meal. Lastly, I didn’t find anything dead to roll in, but tomorrow is a new day!
*Please note: This is not an endorsement for dogs to eat grapes. Grapes and raisins in large quantities can be fatal to dogs. If experiencing the following symptoms please have your owner contact your local veterinarian: irregular breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting, extreme hyperactivity and jittery, dehydration, depression, and no longer wanting to EAT!