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Winter Winemaking: Behind the Scenes
While many people think the wineries just close up for the winter and take it easy, there is a lot going on behind the scenes! From pruning vines (outside!), racking reds, and filtering, there are a lot of crucial projects that go on during this time of year to produce another vintage of your favorite wines!
Pruning Through the Winter
One crucial winter job revolves around pruning the vines and getting them ready for the next growing season, yes even through these cold days they are outside working on the vines! Each vine is individually assessed for its health and fruiting capabilities and pruned accordingly. Most of our vineyards are planted 9’ (between rows) and 6’ (between vines in the row). This means that for our 87 acres there are just over 70,000 vines that need to be pruned. An experienced pruner can prune around 200 vines per day (a vine every 2 ½ minutes) which means for our crew of four it will take almost 90 days to get the job done, that is all of December, January, February and most of March. We actually use our full time and some part time help to prune the more winter hardy varieties (Catawba, Vignoles, Chambourcin, Melody for example) in the colder months and bring in an additional crew to do the more winter sensitive varieties in March.
Racking & Filtering
Inside, the winemaking team is filtering and blending wines, tweaking the chemistry where necessary and basically getting the new wines ready to bottle by late winter. The wines are gently pushed out of the barrels by slightly pressurizing them with Nitrogen gas so no pump is used. The barrels are then hot water washed (no cleaning materials) with a high pressure washer called a barrel blaster which takes about 3 minutes per barrel. Once the barrel is cleaned the next vintage is put into the barrels. One person can rack, clean and refill 20-30 barrels per day.
Filtering wines is an ongoing process for them to achieve the clarity that you see in the bottles your purchase. What type of clarification process we use depends on how much the wine naturally settles on its own and whether we want extended yeast contact after fermentation. Many whites such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer have a small amount of Bentonite added (a refined food grade clay) to eliminate proteins that can form a haze after the wines are bottled. The combination of adding the Bentonite (a process called fining) and time will allow the wines to settle bright without any other activity.
For wines that do not require Bentonite, a process called centrification is used as a method of minimal processing that spins the heavier yeast cells out of the wine. During this process the wine is sent through a machine call a centrifuge (as seen in the photos below) which spins at 7700rpm and forces the yeast in the wine to the outside of the bowl. The centrifuge filters 500 gallons per hour.
After the wines are clarified either by settling or centrification the wines are then chilled to within a degree of their freezing point to allow the precipitation of naturally occurring cream of tartar (potassium bitatrate) so the wines are brilliant and sediment free after bottling.
The next step in crafting our wines will be a process of evaluating, blending and assembling the wines that will be bottled beginning this spring.
Stay tuned for our next update from the cellar!
-Written by Dave Peterson (Owner) & Derek Wilber (Winemaker)