Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Romance (29)

The Vignoles was truly interesting. The juice was so acidic it almost tasted as if there was no sugar, but the hydrometer reading showed about 23 Brix (23% sugar by weight).

Each morning, Nick drank a large glass of grapefruit juice. The smell of Vignoles reminded him of his breakfast drink.

Vignoles is an extremely fruity variety with aromatics that take your nose in many directions, from funk to fruit salad. He was advised to use a slow-fermenting yeast, one that could be stopped easily enough before completion. This was because Vignoles is not a candidate for dry table wine—it’s ok as a sparkling wine, but even then, a dry sparkler can mask as much as 2% residual sugar.

Nick selected the Epernay II yeast. His only worry was that daytime temperatures might not cooperate, and for a few days after he got fermentation started, they didn’t. He spent a great deal of time cooling the tanks with water—a great deal of time. Every evening for about four straight days, he ended the day almost entirely soaked with water, despite the protective high rubber boots and rain jacket that he wore.

It took a few weeks for the fermentation to get the Vignoles down to 2% residual sugar, which was where he wanted to stop it. That gave the wine about 11.5% alcohol, and with all that fruit, plus acidity in the finished wine well above .8% by volume, with a finished pH of 3.2, this was indeed like grapefruit, or pineapple juice with a kick!

To stop the fermentation Nick opened the doors and let the cold air in which luckily by mid October had settled into the region. Then, he racked the wine and dosed it with sulfur dioxide. The cold air didn’t hurt the other wines, as they had long ago finished fermenting and were resting.

He was pleased with himself that night at home, sitting with a glass of wine, a chunk of cheese and some bread for a late dinner after work, and then the phone rang at about 9:30—Riesling tomorrow!

This is what he was waiting for. The locals knew as far back as the 1980s that Riesling was the future for the Finger Lakes wine industry. Nick certainly knew it. He couldn’t wait to get into his first production of Riesling. He had decided to produce a version that would be drier than most in the region. In fact, he had decided to do a few trial blends with small amounts of Gewurztraminer in Riesling to add a touch of the Old World Alsatian taste to the Finger Lakes product.

Nick slept restlessly that night.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One Romance (28)

Seyve-Villard hybrid number 5276 is known as Seyval Blanc or Seyval, for short. The grape’s development is attributed to the Villard family of grape hybridizers.

Suitable in cool climates, Seyval is grown widely in New York and in England as well. In the past, it had been grown in France, but these days European Union rules forbid inter-specific species hybrids for wine, which makes British wine industry people bristle.

Nick hadn’t heard of the grape until his first visit to the Finger Lakes. He liked the Seyval wines that he had tasted, as everyday quaffers. They were medium-bodied whites with clean, citric-like qualities to them, except when they weren’t. A few Finger Lakes winemakers got the notion that Seyval would make a fine replacement for Chardonnay, so they began to give it oak treatment and allow it to undergo the secondary malolactic fermentation that softens mouth feel by converting malic in the wine to lactic acid. The result was spotty, but when it worked, it seemed to work well enough.

Nick had no intention of producing Seyval wine. He wanted mainly to keep the line of wines short: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and possibly a house blend. Yet, even though things worked out and he got a replacement for his Chardonnay juice, he decided to try his hand at Seyval, opting for the clean, citric-like style. It turned out to be a good decision.

Seyval juice was quick to ferment, easy to work with, and half the price of Chardonnay. It gave him a wine to offer to customers at $8 a bottle, exactly where he wanted to price his house blend. The wine he produced was nearly bone dry, aromatic and almost overly citric. It reminded him of a few whites he had consumed in the past that had been produced in France’s Loire Valley.

At the same time that he produced Seyval, Nick was wrapped up with Chardonnay. The latter would be produced in a clean style, too, with no malolactic fermentation but with just a touch of oak, for which he bought a few Yugoslavian barrels for the cellar.

When not subjected to malolactic fermentation, Finger Lakes Chardonnay can remind of Maconnais wines, with hints of crisp apple on the palate. The aroma of clean local Chardonnay often reminds Nick of malt in a beer-like situation, but not many people agree with him.

Not having a means to control temperature within the fermenting tanks, Nick relied on outside temperature and luck. But because of his lack of control he also decided on yeasts that worked well at cool temperatures, which in the Finger Lakes arrive almost without fail the day after Labor Day, as if someone flipped a switch. As he carefully watched his fermentations, he saw how they slowed after a cool night and then as they warmed during the beautiful early autumn days a tendency to speed up—that’s when he cooled the tanks down with sprays of cold water.

It was lucky for him that he used well water, and that his wells did not run dry. But he was forced by the Ag and Markets inspector to chlorinate his water, especially for use in the tasting room, and that caused both money and aggravation as the chlorinator was not exactly a perfect machine. Also luckily, Nick’s winemaking facility was low on porous wood products, a fact that helped him avoid TCA taint with all that chlorine around. It took a few years into his winemaking before the nasty taint got to one of his wines, but that was no worry just yet.

When the fermentations each ended, Nick had a total of three new wines with two more to go—Riesling and Vignoles. The Vignoles came right on the heels of the Seyval, so within a couple of days he was back in the truck and on his way to pick up juice. On the way, he couldn’t help think that his friend Fred would likely escape having to get his hands dirty, as there was just one more juice run to go and Fred still hadn’t said exactly which weekend he would visit. But then, after taking in the Vignoles he would have three wines fermenting simultaneously with a fourth in the offing. He was bound to find some dirty work for Fred--and then that evening...

“Hello Nick.”

It was Fred calling.

“Hey Fred. You comin’ up this weekend?”

“Oh man, I’m sorry to have to tell you this but I have an emergency at work. I’ll be tied up with a project for another two or three weeks…”

Nick cut him off.

“You lazy bastard. You are making this up.”

“Yeah, sure, Nick. Like I don’t want to get away from here. Anyway, are you trying to see me work hard? Is that all you care about?”

The two friends could slip easily into chiding and kidding without hurting because they know each other so long and so well. But this time, there was a tinge of disappointment in Nick’s chide. He didn’t think deeply about it, but when confronted with this situation it became clear to him that he missed his friends greatly. It wasn’t that he was sorry to be where he is. It was that he wasn’t too crazy about what it cost to follow his dream.

In his large Federal style home that was built in 1827, Nick was comfortable and content. In his small winery and tasting room, he was proud. In his relationships with the people he deals with daily he was competent. But he had no close friends nearby and that made him feel lonely at times, especially since Theresa was there only on weekends. Perhaps, if he hadn’t been working almost every waking minute, he might have chucked the idea by this time. But he has been busy and he hadn’t been brooding or dwelling on the loneliness—until Fred hit him with the news.

 “Ah, Fred. It’s not that. Don’t worry about it. I understand.”

“Nick. We miss you, too.”

Special message for vinofictions readers.
I am guest blogging on a new site named Take a look at my first entry winecrush.
It will be like the old vinofictions, but with a much softer feeling…after all, I’m working for someone else!

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Romance (27)

October is quite a month in the Finger Lakes.

The weather is spectacularly crisp and dry, and the clarity of the atmosphere puts a spotlight on the blue sky, transparent lakes, oranges, reds, and yellows of deciduous trees, plus the air smells like grapes.

Tourists also love the region in October--it is the busiest time of the year, and of course while the swarms of tourists attack tasting rooms, the proprietors of wineries work almost all day to take in their crops, ferment their wines, and deal with the tourists trade. It’s enough to make a rather curmudgeonly fellow into someone who plans murders.

Nick was not a curmudgeon when he started, but he certainly was growing into one as he sank his soul deeper and deeper into selling wine at his tasting room. He was overwhelmed to find that many tourists are rather boorish. Besides that, many people in general seemed to revel in their ignorance, and no matter how many winery tasting rooms they visited, they asked the same tired questions, never seeming able to learn a thing concerning a subject about which they claim to express love. Finally, the strain of anti-intellectualism that runs through the American culture was, well, it was getting on his nerves.

One busy day at the tasting room, after he had answered a few questions over and over, after he had endured the “dump bucket joke” at least a dozen times, after he had to deal with cheap, drunken visitors, he began to hate the fact that some cretins got to enjoy October while he got to serve them.

Nick wanted a day off, but it would have to wait until the following week, when Theresa could work in the tasting room. She was on a big project in San Francisco and would be away for about a week.

He got through the harrowing day, made himself some soup, and prepared to settle into an evening of wine and bookkeeping when the phone rang.

“Tomorrow morning? Oh boy. See you then.”

Chardonnay was ready to pick.

Nick phoned Fred.

“So Fred, you’ve missed another grape harvest. I have to pick up the Chardonnay tomorrow. When are you coming up?”

“It looks like I can make it next weekend. Is that ok?”

Fred’s schedule was perfect. Theresa would be back and she could handle the tasting room while Nick entertained Fred. The thought of it made Nick relax. He slept well that night.

The alarm went off at 5:30. Nick ate some oatmeal, drank some coffee, and hustled out the door to the truck—the one that had a flat tire!

He ran back into the house to call Jim and tell him he was going to be late. Jim assured him that he would press and hold the juice for him.

It took him more than an hour to jack the truck and replace the tire with the spare. Most of the time was spent unloading and reloading the tanks from the truck bed to lighten the load and to prevent them from sliding down the bed and possibly breaking something.

In those days, spare tires that came with vehicles were real tires, not those toy tires that automakers shamefully provide theses days with a new vehicle. If he had been stuck with one of those things, Nick would have had no choice but to drive to the shop, unload the truck, have the flat tire fixed and replace it for the spare, and reload the truck. But he did not have to do that. He did, however, have to get the spare from under the truck where it was housed, and the fixtures were of course rusted.

Watching the clock, he raced to Jim’s place. He already would be in a bind to get the tasting room opened on time. This coming beautiful October day that started with a good night's sleep was promising to be stressful, a fact that was underlined when he got to Jim’s place.

“Oh shit!” Jim screamed.

“What’s the matter, Jim?”

“Nick, I gave your Chardonnay juice to the guy who was here a few minutes ago.”

Nick’s stomach sank, his head hurt, and he began to have those thoughts of murder that he thought were reserved only for tourists.

“How could you do that? That was 300 gallons of juice. How many of your home winemaker customers buy 300 gallons of juice?”

“Well, I do have two other small winery customers. Frank, over at Keuka Pass Winery was here to pick up Seyval juice. I gave him yours by mistake. Do you want the Seyval?”

That’s how Nick made his first wine--unhappily--from French American hybrid grapes, and he decided he would do with the Seyval everything that he had planned for the Chardonnay.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One Romance (26)

The Gew├╝rztraminer had finished fermenting, but something wasn’t right.

Where did the rose petal aroma go?

What happened to the hint of ginger?

Why did the new wine smell like the hard-boiled eggs that sat in jars that Nick remembered in the neighborhood bar back in Brooklyn?

He called Doug.

“So, Doug, I’ve got a case of H2S in my newly fermented Gewurztraminer. What’s the best way to handle this?”

Doug snickered a little, “Welcome to your first winemaking experience. You know that pump you took home with you when you left here? Use it to rack the wine into a fresh tank, but don’t blanket the wine with CO2; in fact, let it aerate nicely. If that doesn’t do the trick, well, let’s take it one step at a time. Oh, check the SO2. This is not the time to overdo that stuff either.”

Doug’s remedy worked. Now it was time for Nick to do some research. He called Doug again.

“Well,” Doug said, “your juice probably lacked the proper nutrition for the Steinberger yeast. Have you ever heard of DAP? You might want to look into using it.”

Nick had known about DAP (diammonium phosphate, a source of inorganic nitrogen) but he didn’t know enough so he did some research and wasn’t sure that he liked what he was reading. He understood the nitrogen deficiency in must that DAP is intended to fix, but he questioned the seeming prevailing belief that a dose of DAP before fermentation for every must was prudent—he felt in his gut that a dose of anything without testing first can’t possibly be a smart way to make wine.

Sure enough, there were people warning against indiscriminate DAP use, and the need for testing the must first, but the tests available had to be done at a lab and Nick was not set up for that.

For now, he decided to forgo indiscriminate DAP additions, but he made sure to keep tabs on the progress of the fermentations to follow.

Fred was scheduled to arrive for a visit in a few days. Nick hoped that his close friend would be there when the phone call for the next juice run arrived. He wanted so much to see Fred get his clothes and hands dirty—he’s the kind of fellow who thinks that gardening his Long Island property means paying someone else to come and do the job.

During their last phone conversation, Fred said that he had deadlines to meet at work so he couldn’t yet come up with a date for the visit but it was just a matter of days.

“By the way,” Fred asked, “have you looked over the label designs I sent? What do you think?”

“Let’s talk about them when you get here, Fred.”

“OK. As soon as I clean up some of the workload, I’ll let you know and we can set the date. When does harvest begin up there? I want to see that.”

“Harvest has begun and it will continue until mid October, so you will surely get to see it. In fact, I suggest you bring some work clothes with you.”

“Uh, work clothes. D’you have something in mind for me?”

“Fred, when I get a call to run over to pick up juice I can’t do anything other than get over to pick up the juice right away. The harvest doesn’t wait for us. So if I get a harvest call while you are here, I can’t think of a better way for you to see the harvest than to join me in picking up the juice. Can you?”

“Well, I suppose…”

“Don’t worry, Fred. The work isn’t that hard, and I’ll protect you from unforeseen dangers.”

Nick laughed aloud after he hung up the phone. Fred spends large sums on designer jeans and snappy boots--the image of his old friend slipping and sliding in grape juice was too rich.  

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2010. All rights reserved.