The Finger Lakes is an area that is known for its world class wines. Reisling is just one of the fortes here, but how does a simple grape turn into something so tasty?
Unique microclimates which you can only experience in the Finger Lakes create favorable conditions for the perfect glass of wine. In the end of September into early October is when the weather usually lines up just right for harvest. When you take Mother Nature out of the equation, the rest of the work goes to the winemakers.
“We come out in the vineyard and sample the berries periodically,” co-owner of Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery John Wagner said. “We are looking at the fruit chemistry, how sweet they are, what the acid level and the pH level is. When we get those close to where we want them for wine making, then we start tasting the grapes. We are looking for flavors, seed maturity, condition of the foliage.”
Weather throughout the year plays a big role on when the grapes will be ready for harvest. This season was a little too dry, but when you have too much rain, that is when you could run into some problems.
“If you get a lot of rain, they can get certain botrytis and rot pressure on them,” Wagner said. “So, we have to really be careful once they get to that super ripe phase of being able to pick them quickly, get them at the right temperature, and when we want them.”
Once the conditions are lined up just right, out comes the big equipment. Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery uses a state-of-the art machine called the Gregoire G8 harvester. Very carefully, it goes through the vineyard taking the grapes off the vine.
“It is very gentle on the vines as it takes the fruit off,” Wagner said. “It has on board destemming, so it takes all the stems out and discards them back on the vineyard floor. It also has a secondary fruit sorting system where the berries fall onto. We are only getting berries into the stainless steel gondolas.”
Once the crop is harvested, the next step is to turn grapes into juice. For that process, we are heading over to J.R. Dill Winery.
“The Crusher Destemmer is a really neat little machine,” owner and winemaker at J.R. Dill Winery Jeffrey Dill said. “It’s very tiny, but it is powerful. It does a lot. We dump the grapes into there. That machine then will push the grapes off of their stems. Then it will shoot them, as well as crush them, into the press while the stems will be ejected out the back of the machine, as well as any leaves and petals.”
The press goes through cycles to lightly press and squeeze the grape into juice. Running from the press to tanks, the juice then moves onto the next step.
“So, once it goes into the tank, we immediately start to chill it,” Dill said. “We are going through the clarification of the juice process. It is very brown and gummy when it is coming out of the press, so we clarify that juice. It takes three to four days. Then we try to warm it back up, and start the fermentation.”
Monitoring the fermentation process everyday is a must. Any problems that arise have to be fixed right away.
“Every single day we are always constantly opening the top of the tank to smell,” Dill said. “Make sure aroma is where it is at, the point it should be. We take a specific gravity test everyday, which lets us know the sugar and alcohol content within the wine, and how far along the fermentation is.”
The fermentation process lasts from two to four weeks. After that, the juice will go through filtering and other minor adjustments before it is bottled up in the next six months to a year.
So, the next time you pour yourself that glass, just think about the hard work that went into making it taste so good. It might just taste even better.