Fifth in a series on the 2013 vintage at three New England wineries
BARNARD, VT. The call went out earlier in the week to friends and neighbors that the harvest, or at least portions of it, would be arriving at the little cantina here in the Chateauguay on the upcoming Sunday. It was time for all those who had volunteered to help vintners Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber manage it to don their work duds and put in an appearance. At least 20 did, and by the end of the day dozens of barrels of berries from vineyards in Vergennes, Vermont (around 60 mi west of here) had been variously sorted, crushed, pressed, and vatted.
“Given the way the season started (see earlier report here) the fruit is great,” Heekin says, “but the amount of grapes we need to process is daunting.” That’s 9000 lbs of fruit vs. 2500 from 2012 – a big jump for the Lilliputian winery. The total is comprised of purchased fruit from vineyards in West Addison (processed the previous weekend) and Vergennes with grapes from the 1 acre planted here on the Hunger Mountain farmstead.
It would have been appreciably more had it not been necessary to drop three-quarters of the marquette bunches in Barnard. Black rot had invaded not just the grapes, but the leaves and stems. The decision to drop the fruit was taken to spare the young (four-year old) vines the burden of bringing the fruit to ripeness.
To handle it all required new capital investment, among them a new bladder press, 36 new demijohns, 28 32 gal. food-grade plastic bins.
Hybrids typically ripen more quickly than vinifera grapes, Heekin notes, and stems may not keep pace — thus a concern about green stem tannins giving finished wine an astringent edge. As a result , most bunches are completely destemmed.
The borrowed destemmer stripped out the stems, but also crushed berries when the load wasn’t just right. Heekin decided to resort to handwork. It was her first time working with a mechanical destemmer.
Some hybrid grapes are high in pectin, a compound that makes grapes less willing to give up all their juice, even when pressed hard to do so. The problem can be overcome by the addition of pectic enzyme, an “off-farm input” Heekin prefers not to make use of. An alternate approach: let grapes sit for 24 – 48 hours after a first pressing. During the break, the fruit relaxes a bit and is in more of a cooperative mood went sent through the press a second time.
The new press looks like a conventional basket-type but has a center-mounted bladder that fills with water (it’s fed by a garden hose). Instead of pressure being applied from the top as it would with a conventional screw, blocks, and ratchet mechanism, the expanding bladder squeezes the grapes against the walls of the slats. It takes about 30 minutes to cycle through.
It will take one more weekend to process the Barnard fruit, after which the busiest season of the year for the couple will be behind them. Their Woodstock restaurant, Osteria Pane e Salute, which had been closed an extra day a week during September will resume a regular schedule starting October 1.
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