Harvest Report – Issue #4
Hello Niagara Wine Enthusiasts!
I may have mentioned before that we were experiencing periods of rain. In the cellars, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are through fermentation, and Baco Noir is getting ready to go into barrel now that the majority of it has been pressed off. Let’s talk about outside, though.
What was at first periodic rain shifted to near-constant rain, and we took any chance we could get to bring in remaining Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We’ve also seen quite a lot of Riesling in the past week. The lab work has been busy; making sure that volatile acids are within standard limits—thresholds of acceptance do not consider vintage variation. For those unfamiliar with the term, volatile acidity is a measure of acetic acid in a wine. If grape skins are damaged, acetic acid-producing bacteria and wild yeasts start feeding on the sugars and vinegary-smelling juice is the result (this makes generally unpleasant wine). Sugar is valuable to many things in nature—insects love it too. As you can all probably imagine, in a short period of time, beautiful fruit for winemaking can be all but completely destroyed.
This late in the season, the solution is hand-harvesting anything that’s ready. It’s costly in many ways, but allows for a pre-delivery sorting of the good clusters from the damaged, and should the winery decide on it, whole cluster pressing can be done. Working with whole clusters has to be done gently for some of the reasons previously mentioned. The juices that result from this treatment of the fruit tend to be clean, aromatic and less oxidised (browning or “apple juice-like” flavours). As you’ve seen from some of my pictures, these are usually collected in small picking bins rather than large one-ton bins and get loaded directly into the press from these. It’s a lot of work for an already busy crew, but it’s part of harvest for winemaking.
Chardonnay is an important variety for the highest quality tiers of wines produced at Henry of Pelham, specifically our Estate Chardonnay and Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, which have to come from our own vineyards only. The S.F.R. tends to be from the oldest plantings as well (these are early- to mid-1980’s vines). Since we were hit with such awful weather conditions, this year we have done hand harvesting for all of the batches that go into both of these wines. Last week, co-owner Daniel Speck pointed out to all the staff that we made some outstanding wines in 2009—also a challenging year—and that the extra work and careful management certainly shows itself later down the line, after bottling. I think of our 2009 S.F.R. and know that we have learned in Niagara how to handle these sudden turns for what seems to be the worst; by approaching things differently even if it means a little extra time, or more people.
I hope that my opinion doesn’t weigh this piece down, however I’d like to share a thought. I don’t personally like the concept of only cheering on the vintages with superb conditions (like 2007, or 2010). Awesome conditions in a year don’t automatically mean that all wines from that vintage are well made. I agree with the idea that wines are made in the field, but only to a point. They need to pass through responsible hands before they are put under cork; fantastic wines have been produced from downright awful years because they had people behind them who knew how to treat the fruit, or at the very least were willing to take extra steps to make the best wine possible. I realize fully that everyone can form a preference for anything, not restricted to wine of course. If I’m talking to someone who doesn’t like Niagara wines because of the inconsistency between vintages, I do point out that variability does not automatically equal low quality. If we didn’t work hard to make the best of our extremes, we wouldn’t have a rapidly expanding wine industry. There would be no need for a quality system. We wouldn’t need two schools turning out aspiring winemakers. We have come a long way in only a few decades, and we’re continuing to evolve.
As we look forward to bringing in Merlot and other reds, the sun has come out again. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to keep working on making the best wines we can. With long days and challenges, making wine becomes not just a job but a lifestyle. There is something rewarding about bottling up the story of a harvest, though; reflecting as a wine is shared years later. What was Niagara like that year? I hope to cellar some bottles from 2011; to serve as an expression of our passion and effort this vintage.
Cheers (rain or shine)!