2009 Harvest Fini

By Posted on Nov 12 2009 | By

VineyardThe scene is bare and forlorn. The wind whistles, the rain falls and here and there a lone leaf ripples on a vine. A harvested vineyard is lonelier than a car up on blocks.

It seems its joy has taken refuge inside…inside tanks, barrels and carboys where the nascent wine is gurgling and bubbling its way into next year’s bottles. All matter on this planet simply evolves from one form to another. And in the case of grapes it’s a beautiful transition…fruit to wine.

The 2009 harvest in Virginia has ended and winemakers across the state are assessing the potential of the vintage. By now, most primary fermentations are over and the wines are dry. If a secondary fermentation is desired, called malolactic, it’s underway.  ML, as it’s referred to in the industry, converts the grape’s malic acid into lactic acid, softening and enriching the body and producing subtle butter notes on the finish. Most reds and full-bodied whites undergo this process.

Chardonnay Undergoing ML

The general consensus is that this year’s crop is sound and will produce quality wine. Rain, something a vintner doesn’t like to see during harvest, fell in various amounts during the middle of the red vendange. The white harvest was relatively dry and saw some exceptional fruit brought in. Overall, it was a solid crop.

At Hagarty Cellars, all my wines are either quietly sleeping or proceeding through ML. I had an opportunity to procure some California North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon this year. But, the pH and tartaric acid levels were somewhat unbalanced. Rather than put the wine through ML and lose some of its character, I have chosen to emphasize its fruit forward aspects and blocked the secondary ferm from occurring. This technique comes with a certain element of risk. One does not want a malolactic fermentation to occur in a finished bottle—unless of course you’re after cloudy and fizzy wine. Thus, I will extend age the Cab and treat it with sufficient levels of SO2 to avoid such a pitfall.

On the other hand, my Petit Verdot, almost black in color, is gently perking its way through ML, a process that can take several weeks, even months, to finish. Ditto my Cabernet Franc.

Many of my whites are finishing up ML and in a few weeks I will rack, or siphon, the wine off its lees, or dead yeast cells. Then, a protective shot of sulfur will be added and I’ll haul the six-gallon carboys up to my garage. There they will sleep in the chilly air for three months as the wine cold stabilizes. If I did not take such action, and bottled the wine in May, as soon as I stuck a finished bottle in the fridge it would begin to precipitate “wine crystals”, or tartrates. While not a flaw, most wine drinkers are not enamored with the unsightly but harmless crystal shards lying at the bottle of a bottle or glass.

The months ahead are a quiet time for a home winemaker. Other than an occasional racking of a carboy, it’s a period of maturing for the baby wines. Of course, the fun part is all those test sips I’m required to perform during the long winter months.

But hey, it’s all part of making wine.


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