Monday, September 28, 2009

Ponderings and Rackings

I guess Fall fell today, with lower temp’s and gusty breezes. I noted the leaves turning, almost overnight, from green to golds and reds. I note new TV shows are also turning up, like those leaves I noted, even more old shows are starting new seasons. Yet I find my joy in the slippery goo I scrub from the bottom of my fermentation barrels. Yes, I did watch a bit of football and PBS’ new feature, The National Parks, by Ken Burns.

Both football and TV have their devotees and fanatics and those who do not share these affectations find it hard to understand the devotion, the obsession. I was asked Monday by a coworker at my day-job if I had a restful weekend and I laughed. I mentioned I had worked myself to exhaustion or at least to extreme tiredness. My day job is often more relaxing then winemaking and I like my job a good bit. But winemaking is my obsession.

As I pumped the new wine from barrel to barrel, it frothed and foamed. As the fermentation slows almost to a stop, a move into a new container injects some air and evident energy into the almost-wine. It reawakens the remaining yeast to action and the last bit of sugar contained in the fluid is attacked and transformed into alcohol and CO2. The almost-wine is a step closer to becoming what we hope it will be.

I revisited the barrels I had filled (racking we call it) a few days ago and opened the lids and stared into the still almost-wine. I took a few drops and set them on my tongue, the yeasty nature speaking the words, “Not yet, not yet!” Of course a wine newly fermented was not yet wine of a drinkable nature, but there is promise in those tastes.

Winemakers tend to be optimistic about new wine, we look for the good in the new vintage, --oh that we would do equally the same in our dealings with people. Every month for at least six months I will taste the almost wine and tracks its maturity and progress as it turns into a worthwhile beverage. Pride in our craft drives the hope that we have done something more then average, something that people will find pleasure in drinking.

This year I have an exceptional pride in our wooded Seyval Blanc, I feel it is more then just good and worthwhile as a serious wine. We have many wines I feel this way about, but I keep quiet when asked because that’s just an opinion, not a fact. Let the taster make his or her own judgment because in the end, it’s the taster’s opinion that counts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beaujolais or Bust?

Work, work, work! Yes, I have been busting the chops a bit in the winery (whaaaa!) No pity huh? Well, that’s OK, its what it is after all. Its funny how you can have a true passion for your work but still have days work sucks. But I suspect that’s true of many people, good days, bad days.

So the juice is fermenting and the wine is getting bottled and we are getting tight on space in our little 25’ x 30’ winemaking area. We keep talking about adding on, but I am a bit cheap, so I keep squeezing in barrels, tanks, and other stuff.

This weekend we will start to consolidate the fermenting wine into new barrels. You cannot fill a tank or barrel full because fermenting juice foams up quite a bit, some more then others. Once the primary fermentation is done, you need to transfer all the almost-wine to full tanks and barrels, where it continues to make its way to becoming drinkable wine. We have six different batches that are ready to move, so my weekend is pretty much scheduled.

On top of that, we are behind in getting the new fruit wines bottled, blackberry and red raspberry in particular. We did get a new wine on the shelf, an off-dry, slightly sweet Vidal we call WINDFALL you might want to try. The new version of SWAYZEE is on the shelf, a great food wine with the barest hint of sweetness. The new dry red, HANGING ROCK is a Foch we are very happy with, we hope tasters like it too.

We have had a lot of requests for our BORDERMEN cranberry wine and we hope to have that out before November. We should be able to keep up this fall with all the fruit wines, once we get them back on the shelf.

We have pretty much all the 2008 vintage on line now and are hard at work on the 2009. We hope to have some surprises for you when you come back in six to nine months to see the first of the new vintage. I was asked the other day whether we would have a Beaujolais Nouveau style wine to offer this year. Oh, what is“Beaujolais” you ask?

It’s a French tradition of drinking the first wine of the new vintage which began a long time ago, but became popular in the early 20th century. The release and process is regulated by law in Europe but not here, so here in the USA when a winery talks about its Beaujolais wine, it’s the first release.

Typically, these early French wines are light in character, often served chilled (!), and fruity in taste. It seems the concept of having a Beaujolais party on November's third Thursday (19th this year) is more about having a party then the wine itself. Half the fun is knowing people around the world are doing what you are doing, drinking red wine before its time.

Now, back to the question “Will Oak Hill Winery have a Nouveau style wine this year?” I don’t know yet, but I was thinking we might see if any of our new reds were drinkable by the 21st, the third Saturday in November (we’re not French, after all) and we just might have a barrel tasting that day…?? We’ll see, keep checking back and we’ll let you know!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grape New Year

The phone rings, the emails ping-pong back and forth. Prices, brix, acid, and juice-or-fruit questions fly around. Its harvest time and we are scrambling to buy the best fruit and juice to make the new season’s wine.

I admire farmers in general but in my line of work I especially admire vineyard owners. A few days can make for a better or worse crop in terms of when-to-pick; a late rain can dilute the sugar; no sun can inhibit ripeness; and so much of these factors are out of control of the owner.

They can be smart and they can be just fortunate in weather, rain, bugs, and timing. The difference for the wine made from the fruit can be huge and the financial rewards are also up in the air. Some vineyard owners grow for wineries and some grow for their own winery, only their excess is available to us other guys.

But we are happy when we find some great fruit at a good price. I never complain about prices because I know how much work growing grapes is, if the price is too high, I don’t buy. Most often the higher priced fruit comes from the independent growers, they have no winery to subsidize the grape growing. I try to buy at least half my fruit from these folks, they allow small wineries to make great wine through their efforts, they deserve whatever premium they can get for the work.

I love the smell of yeast in the morning, it smells like, victory! Ok, I also love the smell all day….

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheesecake Details and more

So what is the Cheesecake Festival all about? Well, before we opened we visited many wineries and asked them about many things, including promotional events. Wilson Winery in Delaware County mentioned their BIG EVENT was their own cheesecake making contest, we liked the idea and set up our own the second year we were open.

It was well attended and everyone liked sampling the home-made cheesecakes and the commercial entries as well. The next year I sent a press release out to the surrounding newspapers a few weeks before the event, hoping to get a mention so we could get more entries. The Kokomo Tribune has a very nice entertainment section every Friday (called “Friday” interestingly enough) and the editor is a bright and delightful young lady named Erin Shultz. She called us and came out for an interview and brought a photographer and told us they’d run “a bit” in the Friday newspaper about the event.

They ran a front page “teaser” on both Wednesday and Thursday; then had a large photo of wine and cheesecake on the cover of the section. The article was several pages and clearly, people read it. Over 400 people showed up for our second cheesecake festival. We had people waiting to get in line; to get in the door; to get in line for a taste of cheesecake and wine. We had customers who saw we were swamped and pitched in and helped service cheesecake. I think this big turnout was what helped make this event so big.

I still send out press releases, but we don’t get a quite the response from newspapers these days we did then and honestly, I am glad. Our little building can’t really handle 400 people and that many stresses me and the staff out.

Saturday is also Converse Homecoming Days, a nice town festival in its own right with a parade, vendors, contests, etc. Check it out at:

Oh, the entries, yes. If you want to enter the contest, commercial entries can be dropped off Friday or Saturday by 2 pm (open 1-6 both days). Amateur entries can be dropped off Friday all day and Saturday by 4 pm. We suggest you use disposable pans, but we will have any non-disposables ready for pick-up by Monday. There will be a form to fill out and all award winners will be contacted, grand prize winners will have their photo taken and posted in the winery for a year.

I must mention we have Chad Shrock coming by to perform his wandering minstrel show of celtic-to-elvis music from 2-to-5 pm. Come buy and enjoy his show, like all special events at the oak hill winery, its free!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Red hands at night...

Ahh yes, I have them now! Working with red grapes tends to dye your hands a deep, dark, shade of maroon and this does not even consider your clothes. Red wines always stains and yes, we have special cleaner to remove red wine stains, but these are work clothes. The red stains are a mark of honor or at least of effort put forth.

Truth be told this is the work that really makes you take notice of what shape you are in and how old you are. Certainly we use pumps to move most of the juice around, but that still requires a good bit of physical effort.

Recently, we got in a load of white grape juice from out-of-state and the vineyard had frozen the juice to keep it from fermenting while in transit. The unseasonably cold days and nights we have been having did not thaw the containers out as they have in the past by the time they hit our building. The result was grape juice slushy and the first thing to freeze and last thing to thaw is the water portion of the juice.

Now an old hand like myself should have known that, right? Well, I was tired and did not think it through very well. So when I went back the next day to check the sugar and acid level, one tank was 29-brix (very high sugar content) and the other was 16-brix (somewhat low). SO… --I got the pump out and started pumping from one tank to the other until I had a nice 22-brix balanced across both tanks.

Now we just have to wait for the temperature to come up to about 75 degrees and we can add the yeast, then its just another short 6-12 months and it will be wine! Patience is the key in winemaking; oh, and sanitation too.