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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Our First Crush

It is the end of another season.
Having taken the grapes off the vines for two of our varietals, we were left with only one more to pull and start down the path towards being a pleasureable wine. The hurricane had forced us to pull our Seyval Blanc and our Cabernet Franc a little early, but the sugar content was good at the time and the acid levels were within range. It left us with just our Viognier and our Nortons to harvest, which were no where near ready when the winds hit.
You can imagine that the humidity levels were high for quite awhile after the storm, and it was predicted that our Viognier would be taking a big hit from phomopsis (a surface fungus) because of it. Our Norton though hung tough, being a thick-skinned American grape that has been known to take alot of abuse. The Nortons held firm against Irene, but the Viognier was a complete loss.
Diane came down with me on this trip, and the two of us spent an entire day picking the beautiful dark blue bunches of Nortons from their canopied vines. Even the vines that had been blown over still had plenty of bunches we were able to salvage, though the turkeys fed themselves well in our absence.
We were now pros at this, having 2 previous crushes under our belts from just a few weeks earlier, so we were able to jump right in and start the winemaking process without skipping a beat. First they went through the destemmer-crusher which sent the skins and juices into the MagnaCube for a 24 hour sit. Then pressing once again to remove the skins from the meat and juices. With Nortons we had only to have the juices sit for a day to obtain the deep red color of a traditional red wine. Any longer the color would have become more of a solid reddish-black. And then into the tanks for Diane to start monitoring and tweaking for perfect balance.
One of the things Diane did this time around was fabricate oak chip bags. Since we had only stainless steel tanks for our fermentation, Diane wanted to add a little oakiness to the flavor profile, so she made huge tea bags, filled them with oak chips, and suspended them in the tanks to allow the oak to transfer certain tastes. It is a neat trick, and one that is gaining more favor in the industry since the price of oak barrels is outrageous......for a French Oak barrel the cost is $800 to $900 for a barrel that can be used maybe for 4 or 5 years. Oak chips allows a winemaker to either offer the crisp profiles provided by the stainless or the more buttery, vanilla profiles attributed to oak.
The week was capped off by our traveling up to northern Virginia to pick up some items Diane bought at a winery auction we attended on our trip down a week earlier. Remember the Salahis ? They were the couple that crashed Obama's State Dinner a year or so ago. Needlesstosay, their notoriety from that and the T.V. spot on Housewives of DC couldn't save the winery and vineyard from going under , so its contents were up for auction in early September. All auctions are a grab bag. Many items were in disrepair, others were strictly tied to his methods of doing things. Money was rampant at the affair, and though everyone walked away with some deals better than others, we were amazed at how much stuff went for 80 -90% of new retail cost. Though we didn't walk away with some larger stainless tanks that we wanted, we did purchase 9000 little blue bottles that Diane thought would be good for samples and gift selections. We also picked up a skid of caps, some of which we can use on these bottles but others included nearly 1000 plastic champagne corks.....anyone have a use for these ? (we don't).
You can only imagine how much room 9000 bottles (187 ml) takes up, so we rented a truck and spent the day returning to the Oasis Winery, loading the truck, and coming back home. The truck was unloaded the next day in the pouring rain, which pretty much was the sign of weather to come for the entire next week.
After the weeks were behind us, we had to stand back and just look at the chaos we have brought into our lives. The mini-wiinery we set up was full already, having 6 tanks ranging from 100 liters to 1000 liters in size, all the bottles of course, various processing equipment, and this huge MagnaCube. We have started the ball rolling, and for the most part there is no turning back. The hard work on the new wines is behind us, and though they will require some attention during the next 6 months, there is very little that Diane and I can do but wait and see how our first vintages turn out. It is what we have working towards for the last 5 is not a process that provides instant gratification, and still doesn't.
Winter projects are now to be completed in the months ahead, and with another expansion of Gamays and Scuppernongs in the Spring there is alot of work to be done. We are also trying to decide where to put the winery now that we have pretty much ruled out building it on our current vineyard site and building on an adjacent piece of land is not an option. Our plans have been pushed back a little, now that we have a better grasp as to when our wines will be ready and the time table associated with the winery building.
We are now hoping for a Grand Opening in the late Summer / Fall of 2013.

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