Photo: Owners Fred and Maressa Merwarth work the sorting line on the last pass of gewurztraminer
Don't pick everything at the same time.
It's a simple enough idea, and the reasoning is clear: By picking multiple times - or making multiple passes - Finger Lakes producers will have varying levels of sugar and acid to work with when they put together their wines.
It's a model that is common in Europe, but less common in New York state. Many producers will make a decision: "Time to bring in the riesling." But at Hermann J. Wiemer on Seneca Lake, multiple passes give winemaker Fred Merwarth plenty of options.
For example, Wiemer began bringing in gewurztraminer several weeks ago. "It was early, but we wanted that crisp acidity to be there, no matter what happened in late September," Merwarth explained. "So we made an initial pass, then another picking maybe a week later, and the last one today." He was talking about the third and final gewurztraminer picking that came in this past Sunday, when I joined the harvest crew for a day of sorting.
That final pass at gewurztraminer brought in grapes that were extremely concentrated, sweet, and soft for gewurztraminer (lacking acidity). "We wouldn't be too happy if this was our only picking to make gewurztraminer," Merwarth said. "But with the way we do it, it's great. It's another component to create a balanced gewurztraminer."
When Merwarth makes the 2010 Gewurztraminer, he'll use parts of all three pickings. Some years he uses more of the early pass, some years it's nearly an even blend, and some years he'll favor the last pass. The remaining unused gewurztraminer will go into the Hermann J. Wiemer Frost Cuvee, the estate's value wine and a popular restaurant by-the-glass selection.
"The Frost Cuvee is not a fallback wine or a lesser wine," says Oskar Bynke, manager of marketing. "It's the story of those components that were not needed to create the other blends. We're always excited to see what it becomes, because every year it's something different."
On Sunday crews brought in the first pass of Wiemer riesling, which was vibrant and low in pH, just as Merwarth likes the first picking to be. Monday crews brought in the rest of the pinot noir and then planned to evaluate the weather the rest of this week before evaluating the next passes to be made.
Perhaps more important than anything, the crew at Hermann J. Wiemer hand sorts every picking of grapes that comes in during harvest. That leads to some extremely late nights, but they find the difference in quality to be striking.
"We were up until 6:30 in the morning two nights in a row," a weary but spirited Maressa Merwarth explained. "We've been up late before, but two nights in a row might be a record."
There have been lots of records set in 2010. It appears that's not finished yet.