Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Winemaking 101

From varmint control to how much juice goes into each barrel, wine making is about a lot more than grapes and crush, fermentation and press, aging and bottling. Our vineyard is producing now and the grapes are exceptionally good, but we aren't getting enough from each varietal to fill a barrel. We don't have that scale, and that lack of scale is a mixed blessing. The easiest way to age wines is the tried and true method of using oak barrels. But getting a barrel of good juice takes about eighty vines in full production. Then, once you have the barrels, which are very expensive belongings, you need to transport them somehow and store them in a temperature-controlled environment...hot enough during malolactic fermentation to keep the bacteria happy and then cool enough to keep the wine stable for a year afterward. The logistics are daunting; unless you are selling wine, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to produce several varietals even at just one barrel each. Putting all your wines in one barrel is a lot like putting all your eggs in one basket, plus each barrel will yield twenty five cases of finished wine. That's a lot of wine for somebody who has no intention of selling wine.
So, we are getting about fifteen gallons each of both syrah and cabernet. That translates to six "carboys" of wine or around 140 bottles. Too much to move and store easily, too little to economically produce on scale. What to do, what to do???
Stan Clarke thought our vineyard site would produce some great grapes. Six years later, his convictions are proven out. One of these days, I need to decide to go big or to go home. The vineyard should be made to be at least six times its current size to eventually yield enough syrah, cabernet, merlot, cab franc, malbec, and petit verdot to carry its weight in the community. The land deserves it and I would be proud to have this, but so much work, it would take a full time vineyardist and that makes no sense without going 20X the current size...then without starting a wine label it doesn't make any profit, and then with a label the work grows exponentially...licensing, handling, shipping, marketing, distribution...
Goodness, reasoning things through out loud, or in a blog, sure helps to avert headaches. I'm sticking to the six carboys.

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