Archive for the ‘Romance of Wine’ Category

One Romance (30)

Monday, October 11th, 2010

“Wake up,” Nick told himself, “you are going to meet the queen.”

Even back then, in the late 80s, everyone in the Finger Lakes wine business knew who the queen was. Too bad it took so long for the rest of the world to catch up; if it had found out sooner, Nick might have been able to hold out a little longer and make a great success of his little winery.

Of course, on that first morning of his first juice run for his first Riesling, Nick was still full of hope and optimism. There was no other description for what he felt. He had serpentined the alcohol rules and regulations, he had been schooled in the conservative ways of banking that proved only the stingy stay wealthy, he had been awakened to the cruelty of large wineries and the cruelty of the weather, he had been subjected to the interrogations of clueless tourists, he had been tried by financial deprivation, and he had been made to change plans through no fault of his own. This morning he was going to meet the reason for it all.

The grapes came in at approximate total acidity of .9 %, pH at 3.1-3.2, and sugar between 21-22 Brix (generally the % by volume). The juice he picked up was the most tasty of all the juices thus far—the only one that had less of a grape juice quality to it and more of the profile of what the wine might be like: austere, yet giving; aromatic, yet subtle; full, yet delicate; and filled with the promise of a future.

Waiting in the winery was a batch of Steinberger yeast (DGI 228). Known for its ability to ferment under cool conditions, slowly, to draw out the aromatics and fruit, as well as for its ability to tolerate at least 13% alcohol, sulfur dioxide, plus low pH. He used the yeast on Gewurztraminer for similar reasons, but the yeast seems to have been developed specifically for all that Riesling has to offer.

Nick picked up the juice without incident: no lost tank, no state policeman on the road to look unfavorably at his low tire pressure, no spills, no mistaken ripening stats, no dead pump in the winery, no problems with the yeast, no problems with getting fermentation started, a perfectly cool yet clear autumn weather pattern so that he didn’t have to cool the fermentation by watering the tank, and a perfectly quiet few weekdays in the tasting room, giving him time to do the necessary fermentation work on the Riesling and racking work on other wines in the cellar.

Riesling was the promise and now that promise was in Nick’s hands to mold, certainly not to mess up.

When Theresa called that night she could hear in his “hello” that something good happened that day, and she became so excited that she could feel the promise, too, even though she was beginning to wonder whether or not Nick had what he needed to get this winery off the ground. She believed in him—no problem there—but she also saw how much of an uphill trek he had before him. She wanted to be there to help, but financially could not drop the commute and the income that it provided, the income that Nick quickly made to evaporate into the promise of a future.

The future was Riesling, for the region and for Nick. For now, the future was slowly bubbling away, almost foamless, which is another benefit of DGI 228.

His ideal was to craft a finished Riesling between 11-12% alcohol, a 3.2-3.3 pH and .75-.80 total acidity, and no more than .75 residual sugar. He could then decide if it needed some of that Gewurztraminer to give it a push or if it could stand on its own. He rambled on about all the stats while Theresa listened, happy to hear in his voice, well, happiness for a change.

NOTE: there may be longer lag time between posts of Nick’s story. I have a project on which a great deal of time must be spent. Hope all four of my readers will bear with me.

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
October 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (29)

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

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.

One Romance (28)

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

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 wines.com. 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.

One Romance (27)

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

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.

One Romance (26)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The Gewürztraminer 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.

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.

One Romance (25)

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

With Gewurztraminer happily in the tank, and with the quiet at the tasting room between Labor Day and Columbus Day, when all hell breaks loose in the Finger Lakes, Nick figured it was a good time for that trip to Northeast, Pennsylvania, on the shore of Lake Erie. Based on past sales records, he chose the best day of the week to close the tasting room and make that drive.

Soon, harvest would be in frantic swing, and he would need a second transfer pump. His new Zambelli reversible pump served him well on his first juice run, but he was aware that equipment like that needs to be backed up, as they seem to come with an internal mechanism timed to breakdown at the most inopportune moments. He also decided that it was time to get himself a filter pump and some filters to have for the coming months—wouldn’t hurt either to bundle up on a few other wine-making items.

Nick liked Doug, who operated a winery supply business specifically set up for home winemakers and for tiny wineries—he also had his own tiny winery to tend to, plus many acres of grapevines along the shores of Erie.

The other reason Nick liked going to Northeast was the necessary three-hour drive along Route 17, once voted the most scenic road in New York (or was it in the whole country?). It’s a string of rolling hills, pastures, small lakes and streams, large silos, fields of grain, and at the close of the trip, grapevines. The trip takes you past some of the oldest settled land in the country, and some of the most active during the American Revolutionary War; you drive by the famed Chautauqua Institute, where intellectual pursuit joins artistic display; and you witness some of the most scenic waterways and secondary roads on the other side of a highway railing.

On his first trip to Northeast, to buy tanks, barrels, and sundry items, Nick stopped in Salamanca to grab something to eat and to fill his tank with gas. It was the first time in his life that he had ventured onto a Native American reservation, and it wasn’t until he saw the price of goods and gasoline when he realized where he was, as excise taxes are not levied on reservations, which remain separate nations of a sort.

The city of Salamanca is on the Alleghany Indian Reservation, which the Seneca Nation leases to New York State—until 2030 (who knows?). The same rules that keep excise taxes at bay also allow reservations to host gambling casinos: Salamanca would ultimately have its revenge on the white man when it, too, would profit from the weaknesses of gambling. For the time being, however, the area looked relatively viable but not overwhelmingly prosperous, and while many people looked Native American, with their colorful faces, vaguely Asian cheek and jaw structure, and jet-black hair, he saw many other non-native faces. There seemed to be more drinking establishments per square yard than in his neighborhood at Keuka Lake, but then, that might be true for any place on earth when compared to Keuka Lake. The price of wine at retail was also much less in Salamanca than anywhere other than his industry member discount.

On this second trip to Northeast, Nick left home at 6 a.m. so that he could arrive at his destination early enough to get business done and get back home before sunset. He filled his gas tank and chose not to stop along the way, but he drove relatively breezily so that he could take in the striking New York scenery.

When he arrived in Lucille Ball’s hometown, Jamestown, he was under an hour away from his destination, and it wasn’t 9 a.m yet.

Entering Northeast reminded him of childhood summers. He knew that Lake Erie is not an ocean, but its massive shoreline and wet horizon certainly gave it that appearance, especially when humidity was high and from a distance you could see the wet air hovering over the water’s waves, calling up a particular childhood memory as he and friends descended upon the Bay 14 beachfront at Coney Island in Brooklyn.

As he came closer to the shoreline, he could smell the breakfast grill at a certain diner on the corner of town just before the east/west shore road along the lake begins. They produced a fine breakfast of eggs to order and home fries, and they offered decent coffee, too, which is no guarantee on the road. He was to meet Doug at the winery at 10:30, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast.

Not known to Nick, that morning Doug had been called away by his vineyard manager to take care of one of the daily emergencies that take place during harvest season. When Nick arrived at Doug’s place, on time, he was made to wait, which he could do either outside or in the tasting room.

Doug’s tasting room and retail space was small. Nick perused it for ideas that he might use to make his space more efficient. At the tasting bar, cheese accompanied the wines to taste. After watching a couple of transactions, Nick saw how serving the right cheese with each wine boosted how much consumers liked the wine; it was a lesson he was sure to take home with him.

When Doug finally arrived, time had been running out and so the two made a fast walk through the warehouse to look at inventory and through the winery to see how Doug put to use some of the equipment that he thought Nick might want to consider. But for this trip, only the backup transfer pump, a filter pump system and filters and other supplies were all that Nick was prepared to buy, although he did have his eye on the bottling system that Doug assured him would be there in the spring when he would need it and also the Yugoslavian oak barrels that Doug used instead of the more expensive French barrels, but that would also have to wait for another time.

He settled on a transfer pump that was cheaper than the Zambelli he already had; this one was not reversible, but it was for backup and for certain racking jobs so he was comfortable getting it. For the filter system, he wasn’t going to produce enough wine in the first year or two to invest in a plate filtering system, so he bought a small cartridge system. Doug had assured him that the new technology of the time provided cartridge filtration to a nominal .2 micron, which was pretty tight.

The system was simply a small pump with a truly slow rate, and a stainless steel cartridge holder. Plastic tubing connected to the tank being emptied of wine to be filtered into the cartridge holder on one side and then a plastic tube coming out of the cartridge holder on the other side and into the tank that would receive the filtered wine. He bought a number of rough filter cartridges, 1 micron, a few .45 micron  cartridges, and a smaller number of .2 nominal cartridges for the final filtration before bottling. He packed a large box with various wine-making chemicals and supplies plus some cheese and bread that he bought from Doug to eat on the drive home, and a few bottles of wine that Doug gave to him to sample.

He was home by 5 pm, enough time to unwind for the following day, which would prove to be an active one.

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
August 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (24)

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Jim’s phone call was expected. In fact, Nick was praying for it. He wanted so much to get his first commercial fermentation started.

“Nick, we are picking Gewurztraminer today. You can get it late this afternoon.”

“I’ll be there at about 5. Ok?”

Jim gave the green light for a 5 pm pick, provided of course that everything went well and no massive non-forecasted rainfall swept in.

Of the Vitis vinifera varieties, Gewurztraminer is among the extra sensitive to a Finger Lakes volatile winter; it is also among the early maturing varieties in the region. The variety is not known in the region for low pH and high acidity, and if you wait only briefly after the crop matures, the pH can shoot up and the acidity plummet, a case for flabby wine.

In the good old days, when the large wineries ran the vineyards, they trained local growers to pick grapes at what the winery considered optimum Brix (sugar) levels for each variety. This mindset is fine for producing wines with no particular depth of character and no particular reason to be anything more than quaffers, but it is not a useful way to deal with the desire to produce premium wines that make a singular, personal statement about the variety’s characteristics. For that, you need to develop the experience to analyze all the numerical stats for sugar, acid and alkalinity plus, you need to develop a palate for analyzing the future wine possibilities of a few clusters of grapes pulled off the vine and crushed into juice—the samples that provide you with a taste of maturity.

Not only is the aroma of fermenting Gewurztraminer among the most pleasantly heady of grape fermentations, the taste of mature Gewurztraminer grapes is a delightful simulation of sweet ginger. Being among the most educated and dedicated of grape growers in the region, Jim spent many years as vineyard manager for one of the local large wineries and he also operated with his wife his own vineyards that they used in their business to supply home winemakers with products.

When Nick realized his financial straits prevented him from making an initial investment in a good bladder press, he made a deal with Jim to contract grapes from him and then to pay a pressing fee; Jim had the latest in bladder press technology for his business. It was a fine arrangement, as Nick had no plans to produce red wine, which, unlike white wine, was pressed after fermentation.

That afternoon, Nick closed the tasting room a little early and drove his 2-ton pick up to Jim’s place, which was almost directly across the lake from him, but of course he could not get to it in a straight line. With the truck bed empty, he made the trip in about 25 minutes; with the bed full, the trip back took a little over an hour, as Nick usually maxed out the truck’s capacity on the juice runs, and that made for one of the rare times when he drove both carefully and slowly. On this trip, he would pick up 500 gallons of juice, which is about 2 tons in weight, so he emptied the truck of anything that was unnecessary, checked tire pressure, threw in a few small plastic receptacles to augment the two 250-gallon tanks, in case there was excess juice and made off at 4:30 for what would be his first commercial wine.

When he arrived at Jim’s place, he was told he’d have to wait in line. He hadn’t gotten to Nick’s Gewurztraminer yet, but was just ready to get it going after it had been crushed and sat on the skins for a little while to absorb its spicy characteristics.

Jim shot the juice with 30 parts per million of sulfur dioxide and then pumped it into Nick’s 250 gallon tanks as well as one of the plastic receptacles that accepted the excess and handed Nick the final stats for the juice plus a bill for $2500 to cover the cost of grapes and a fee for pressing. The juice was at 21 Brix (21% sugar by weight), .75% total acidity (by weight), and measured 3.4 on the pH scale (approaching the high side, but within the acceptable range of relative alkalinity for wine and its long-term stability).

The juice tasted exactly like Nick expected—ginger ale without the fizz. He knew that the pH might rise and the acid might fall some during the winemaking process, but only slightly. He also knew that he would have to add sugar to the fermenting juice, so that he could increase the potential alcohol to offset the relative softness of the higher pH then, say, regional Riesling, which usually hovered in the 3.2 range. He kept a bag of Dominoes on call for these times. His plan was to increase the Brix to 24 and shoot for 13% alcohol in the finished wine. To do that, and to retain the wine’s spicy fruit character, he would need to select the proper cultured yeast. He decided on Steinberg yeast for its ability to draw out aromas by fermenting slowly and to dryness. The yeast does well at cool fermenting temperatures, which led Nick to open the winery doors in the evening to let more cool air brush the sides of the stainless tanks. Having no coil refrigeration for his small tanks, he cooled them during the day with frequent applications of cold water from a hose.

One afternoon, while waiting for customers to find his tasting room, Nick sniffed a most delicate, pleasing aroma that emanated from his small winery. He walked over to the winery where the Gewurztraminer was still fermenting, taking in the wonderful aroma as he came closer and it became stronger. He grabbed one of the many step-ladders he kept around the place, climbed to the top of the fermentation tank, opened the top door and stuck his head into the fermentation tank. Initially, he was greeted with a marvelous intense aroma of rose petals that was quickly followed by a blast of carbon dioxide that nearly knocked him off the ladder. He made a note to never do that again…

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
August 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (23)

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Nick’s close friend, Fred, owned a printing company. He volunteered to provide Nick with printing his promotional material and labels for free, but Nick would have none of that. They agreed on a price, which included a few cases of wine. Fred phoned to talk about the label design and to arrange for a trip to the Finger Lakes.

Talking with Fred always made Nick feel good. They met in the fourth grade, shared a birthday—only 15 minutes apart—and spent the better part of their youth in and out of trouble together. Fred had the silver tongue and Nick had the good looks; they were a great duo for picking up girls on the beach, in the park, at the Italian feasts that came through the neighborhood, and in school, on the days that they didn’t play hooky together. Each was best man at the other’s wedding—more than once!

“So, Nick, now that you are going into harvest and getting ready to make your first vintage wines, are you also ready to talk about the label design? I’ve got a few ideas for you.”

“It’s still a little early for that, Fred, but to let you know what I’m thinking, our logo has to be prominently featured at the top of the label, and I was hoping to get a drawing or picture of our property in, too.”

“I see, old friend. I was thinking modern graphics but you are thinking Old World symbolism. Right?”

“Right, Fred, for now.”

The name of the winery was Noah’s Slope. It was a biblical reference to Noah’s first activity after the rain subsided and he was able to leave the ark to explore Mount Ararat: he planted a vineyard.

Nick envisioned the slope of his vineyard that surrounded his home as the right image for Noah’s vineyard and he figured that his house nicely represented the ark, as it was both a home and an old wood frame structure circa 1827.

Fred envisioned a modern graphic treatment of the concept of the ark and the land. Fred saw everything in graphic treatment.

“Listen Nick. I’d like to come up for a visit in two weeks or so. Why don’t I Fedex you the drawings I made so that you can look them over. When I get there, we can discuss it. Fedex goes to your region, right?”

“Geez, Fred. Where do you think I’m living—in the Amazon forest? Of course, we have Fedex delivery service.”

“What I meant is that since you have a rural box address they may not come to your door.”

“Oh. Good point. Maybe I’ll have to pick it up at the nearest Fedex office, which is about 40 miles away.”

“Forty miles away! Manhattan takes up less than forty square miles. You ARE rural. Never thought I’d find you living that way.”

“I never thought so either, Fred, and sometimes it does wear me down to have to drive forever just to shop for groceries or go to the movies. But you can’t operate a vineyard without land—lots of it—and you can’t be too far away from the vineyard when you make wine.”

It certainly was a lift to talk to Fred and to know that he will pay a visit soon. Nick felt so good after hanging up the phone he almost forgot about Sassy.

Sassy was Nick’s vineyard dog. She came with the property. The previous owners were retired and moving into a small retirement community. Sassy had been with them for many years but they could not take her with them, and they didn’t think she wanted to go either. She loved the vineyard land. When they suggested that Nick and Theresa take Sassy, the couple agreed without hesitation.

She was a mutt, a mix of Labrador and some small Spaniel type. Her body was husky and round but it rested atop four extremely short legs. When she walked, she dragged her feet and wobbled wildly; with jet-black fur, the walking dog looked like a land seal.

Sassy knew that Nick was going out to the vineyard when he put on his winter overalls and high boots and then grabbed the pruners and the Walkman. As he made his way to the rows, Sassy wobbled close behind. When he stopped, she plopped down at the head of that row and waited patiently for him to move to the next row where she established herself all over again.

Although Nick and Theresa had two dogs of their own when they moved in, he had taken to Sassy. He knew she was old and near the end of her time, but he didn’t think about that until that morning when he could not find her. Normally, she was right there whenever something was going on in the vineyard. He figured she’d be there for the Catawba harvest just as she was there each day during the Aurora harvest a few weeks earlier. But when he made his way to the vineyard to meet the harvester, Sassy was nowhere around.

After the harvesting was complete, Nick looked around for Sassy in the many usual spots that she liked to lie down or explore. He called out her name a number of times, something he usually had to do only once to get her to come wobbling to him, but she did not come.

After talking with Fred, and still in a heightened mood, Nick decided to look once more for Sassy. This time, he took the two other dogs with him. Sheba and Elf were also mutts and as far as he could tell, they had no hunting talent in them, but they had noses and they had ample time to familiarize themselves with Sassy’s personal smell. He hoped that they might help find their stepsister

After the better part of an hour stalking the property and beyond, there was no sign of Sassy.

When the previous owners handed over the deed and Sassy to Nick and Theresa, they told a story of an earlier vineyard dog that they once had. As the dog grew older and closer to its end, it seemed to stalk the property more and more, vanishing for hours and even for days at a time, until one day it walked away and never returned. Could Sassy have taken the same route? After three days, Nick figured that she had.

A few days later, while walking the vineyard to assess how best to start pulling up the Catawba vines, as he turned the corner of one row to make his way to the next he instinctively looked toward the end of the row as he had done every time he worked in the vineyard to signal to Sassy that it was time to get up and follow him. This time, he saw only an empty row through blurry tears.

It would be only a few months before Sheba and then Elf were gone. A few days after that, Nick and Theresa had a new vineyard dog; his name was Henry and he was just in time for the spring season. But before that day, there was the winery’s first fermentation to attend to.

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
August 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (22)

Monday, July 19th, 2010

“It’s Catawba, Nick. You aren’t going to get rich on it.”

This was the advice Nick was given by his neighbor after he balked at the price per ton that the large winery in Canandaigua offered: $300.

“I know, Danny, but how do you guys make a living on that kind of price?”

Danny laughed so hard it scared Nick. He thought maybe the man was touched!

“Nick, you should make wine and stop growing grapes. You don’t have the heart for it. Grape growing is the one business where you buy all your supplies and equipment at retail, and you sell your produce at wholesale. It’s been like that for some time now. In the old days, when Taylor was a big national winery we made money. But as you can see, I’m still driving my 1960s Mercedes.

Anyway, do you want me to tell the grape buyer over there that you are in with three acres at about, what, 18 tons?”

“Yeah, I’m in. Gotta get rid of them somehow. Take a look at them. Do you think I’ve got about 6 tons an acre there?”

“Without a doubt.”

Nick had that conversation in mid September. By late September, he had received a phone call that picking was scheduled three days from then. He was incredulous.

“Danny, they are like peas out there.”

“C’mon, Nick. I’ve seen ‘em. They have some color.”

“Well, yeah, but I’m talking about their firmness. They simply aren’t mature.”

“They doan need no mature grapes. They need grapes for acid and so that they can use the word “grape” on the label. They make up for no juice with water and sugar. You know, this stuff doesn’t go into the kind of wine you drink every day. It goes into someone’s back pocket…”

There was that laugh again, that fell between a howl and a growl. It wasn’t the last time Nick would hear that laugh from a local grower. Over the past few years, they had fine-tuned sarcasm and black humor concerning their fate. Some of them have pulled up stakes; some have started their own little wineries; the rest of them laugh sardonically and keep the bill collectors at bay.

The crew showed up just before dawn. Nick heard them coming in the distance, the quiet, steady groan of a few tractors, one that was connected to the mechanical harvester and two others trailed by wagons with one-ton bins in them. He looked out the window in their direction and saw what appeared like a large insect with bright beams for eyes bouncing its way into the vineyard road. He put on his boots and gloves and went out to start his tractor.

“Now, here’s how we do this,” Danny told him.

“I’ll set the harvester at the end of the row. My guys here will drive a tractor on either side with the bins in them. You will ride on one of the tractor wagons and my son over there will ride on the other. Your job is to clear the bins of debris—you know, dead birds, pieces of wire, whatever ain’t grapes. Don’t worry about the way the grapes look—they suck anyway.”

After about an hour or so into it, Nick was enjoying the work and especially the camaraderie. He had been working for so long all by himself that he missed talking to co-workers. Talking to tourists was not the same, and not nearly as pleasurable.

Unfortunately, for Nick, three acres of mechanical harvesting goes rather quickly, especially when nothing goes wrong—and nothing went wrong. The grapes were picked, the bins were loaded onto a truck, and everyone was gone well before noon. Danny would get back to Nick in a day or so with the full tonnage and a check for $300 each ton, less the picking fee.

Nick’s phone rang early the next morning.

“Hey, Nick, it’s Danny.”

“That was fast. I expected to hear from you tomorrow or the day after.”

“Yeah, well, the news ain’t good. When I got the grapes to Canandaigua I was told that they over purchased and didn’t need all that I was able to bring them…”

Nick cut in.

“Huh? I have no market for those grapes and I have no way to take them back…”

“Relax, relax. They took the grapes, but they gave me less money for them.”

“Is this some kind of scam, Danny?”

“Oh, I know how it looks and I wondered how the hell I was going to break this news to you. But we all were forced to take $250 a ton instead of the promised $300. This is the way these big guys deal with us now. In the old days, Taylor would never have dreamed up such a scheme. Tell you the truth, this may be my last year at this.”

“Well, it certainly is my last year growing Catawba. Have you got the check? How many tons did I come in at?”

“Yours was as I expected, just over 18 tons. The check will be issued today and I will go get it. They are paying me for the whole lot because they have no contract with you. I’ll pay you out of my bank.”

“OK, Danny. Thanks for the call.”

“Hey, Nick. Don’t take it too hard. Chalk it up as a lesson: the money is not in the vineyard; it’s in the bottle.”

Nick sat down to eat breakfast and for the first time that he could remember, he didn’t feel like eating anything. He felt like strangling the grape buyer at the winery, Danny, and himself, as all were complicit in how terrible he felt just then—and just then, the phone rang.

“Nick, it’s Fred.”

Fred was Nick’s longest standing friend—they met in the fourth grade. He was coming up from “the city” for a visit.

Nick couldn’t have gotten better news.

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.

One Romance (21)

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

In his usual nightly telephone conversation with Theresa, who was in New York City for most of each week, Nick mentioned Gordon’s proposal.

Theresa was not impressed. She knew two things about Nick that he seemed to forget every fifteen minutes: he hated working with other people, and his passion for wine went well beyond becoming rich at it, something that he knew was unlikely to happen. She also knew the terrible strain that finances put on Nick, so she had to tell him to throw Gordon out on his ass as gingerly as she could.

“Oh, Nick, I know how hard you are working and I know how easier your life would be if only you had a few million to throw at the winery. But this guy sounds to me like just another slick money manager who will finagle you into a position either of failure and then indebtedness to him or success and indebtedness to him. I’m against it.”

“Against what? I haven’t said anything about going into business with him, just told you what he told me.”

“I’m against you having dinner with him; against you ever talking to him again. If you really need to establish a line of credit, we’ll have to work harder to find a bank willing to give you one. But don’t give your blood and sweat to a slickster.”

“Theresa, have you no faith? I told you about this because I tell you everything. I have made no decisions one way or the other about this guy and his offer.”

“Nick, you ain’t listening to me. Don’t even have dinner with the guy. He’s a pro: he’ll make you think he’s your savior. Do me a favor. After we hang up, think about why you wanted to start the winery and then think about what it is you want from the life you have chosen. Then, weigh carefully what this guy said to you about profit and cashing out and all that stuff. If after that exercise you still think it’s worth hearing this guy out, then fine, have dinner with him. But don’t have dinner with him if you find that what he said is counterintuitive to what you want, which is exactly what I think it is.”

Nick always knew when Theresa had a point—she had a way of making sure that he did know. She had a point and so he took her advice—well, almost.

That evening, he did something that he had heard about before but never tried. He sat himself down and, with discipline, made a list of the pros and cons of what Gordon offered. As he made his way through the list, he could see plainly that Gordon’s concept was not his. Nick was not in the wine business to cash out—he was in it like a taproot. Yes, he needed to earn a living, but he didn’t want to become a Gordon-like figure that placed money and conquest over everything. Besides, Gordon was at Nick’s wine tasting room and showed no interest in tasting wine. What does that say about him?

At the end of about an hour of pros and cons, it was clear to Nick that he would have to tell Gordon to take a hike. That is what he decided he would do; but only after one shot at trying to persuade Gordon otherwise. He called Gordon’s hotel. They arranged to meet the following day at 8 p.m. in Hammondsport at Nick’s friend’s restaurant, the Pleasant Valley Inn, which he considered the best around Keuka Lake.

Nick went to bed that night counting up the many reasons he would give to Gordon for not going into his type of partnership. He hoped that after giving Gordon his reasons, the man would see the light and come around to Nick’s vision, invest his money based on that, and then let Nick’s vision have wings.

Nick waited at the restaurant bar until about 9, sipping and jawboning with Harold, the owner. Gordon never showed. That was that.

A few weeks later, Nick found out from a local news item that Gordon had invested in another winery in the region. He felt a little bad about it, but if he could see into the future, he would not have felt bad at all: within two years, the local news about the venture wasn’t so good. In true money-management fashion, Gordon put not one dime of his own into the winery. He built a scheme to lure investors and then proceeded to milk the winery’s assets in various ways. When the investors grew restless, Gordon the winery angel spread his wings and vanished.

Nick went back to reality. With three weeks to go before the Catawba harvest, his crop remained homeless. He had to get moving on it.

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
July 2010. All rights reserved.