So far the growing season here in my home vineyard in New York's Hudson Valley has been picture perfect this year. We have had a very hot and dry summer with relatively cool nights. When growing grapes, this is the kind of weather mix that you pray for. My various red wine grape varieties are all at various stages of veraison, with some pretty advanced in the game. Shortly I will begin the weekly task of measuring the sugar content and pH of the grapes to try to get to an optimum point for harvest. Of course, I will be tasting the grape and checking the seeds' color and brittleness as another key indicator for that all-important day. While the quality of the fruit is one of the most important factors in determining what this year's vintage will be – good, bad, or stellar, there are a number of other factors to start thinking about now before harvest. These decisions can greatly influence the final outcome of your wine creations. So what are they? They are factors like yeast selection, field mixes or varietal fermentations and blending and utilization of oak and other adjuncts. These are just some of the initial questions that need to be answered. They will go on and on through the winemaking process – decisions, decisions, decisions. Let's discuss some of mine for this vintage.
For white wines last year I used both Red Star Cote des Blancs (Epernay II) and Lalvin D47. I utilized the D47 yeast for a trial in making a dry, buttery, and oaky Vidal Blanc. This yeast was supposedly well suited for creating more mouthfeel and appropriate for a follow up with malolactic bacteria (MLF); for that smooth butteriness. I found that the D47 yeast was a very slow fermenter and did not settle and clarify as well as other yeasts I have used historically. I also didn't notice much difference in the mouthfeel of the white wines developed between the Epernay II and the D47. I have utilized Epernay II for my wines made with my homegrown Vidal Blanc for a number of years and have been very happy in all accounts with it. It develops a clean, bright, and off-dry wine. With some tweaks, multiple variations in wine style can be created with this yeast. It will be my go to yeast for all my white wines this vintage.
For red and rosé wines last year I used Red Star Pasteur Red and Lalvin 71B-1122 (71B). I wanted to give the Pasteur Red a try with my dry red blends, based on the yeast's description of being well suited for wines based on Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, etc. - developing the flavor profiles of these grapes and enhanced flavor depth. My general thought about this yeast is that I am not overly impressed. I had historically utilized 71B for all my red and rosé wines, developing great flavors, aromas, and depth. I will be utilizing 71B for all my red-based wines this vintage.
Field Blends/Varietal Fermentation
For those that have followed along with my blog, you may remember that I favor field mix when making my red wine blends – the “more flavorful stew concept,” as I like to call it. Last year one of my red blends was a field mix of my homegrown DeChaunac with some California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The other red blend was a mix of my homegrown Corot Noir and California Syrah and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. These resultant wines are very palatable and are developing nicely in their bottles. Are they the perfect mix, especially for my very particular dry red wine only drinking wife? Not yet. My wife is currently enamored with a dry red wine from Croatia made by Stina Winery (pictured left). The grape utilized in making this wine is Plavac Mali. Unfortunately, this is not a readily available grape here in the US. After doing some research, it turns out that this variety is very similar to Zinfandel. In always trying to create that perfect dry red wine for my wife, Zinfandel will be a key component of one of my red blends this year. Right now, based on availability and pricing from California, I am envisioning my red blends to be DeChaunac, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. My other red wine blend will be Corot Noir, Noiret (which are pictured above and developing beautifully in their first production year in my home vineyard) and Pinot Noir. Bacchus will determine in the end if I have found my annual go to combinations!...