Adieu 2008 Vintage

By Posted on Jul 11 2009 | By
Bottling by gravity hose

Bottling by gravity hose

Today I bottled the last of my 2008 wines.

Overall, it was a successful vintage producing high quality fruit—the key to making decent wine.

As an amateur winemaker, my objective is to bottle all my wines the year following harvest. This is opposed to a professional winery that ages most of their reds—and some whites—for extended periods. A full-bodied professionally made Cabernet Franc can rest in the barrel for up to eighteen months before being transferred to its final resting place, the bottle.

The reason many home winemakers do not employ extended aging is the lack of vessel capacity and cellar space. The use of oak barrels for aging wine is fraught with many problems. Foremost is the opportunity for a host of microbes to take up residence in an oak barrel. Keeping oak vessels clean requires vigilance of the first order. Secondly, while oak barrels are sold in capacities less than sixty gallons, the conventional 227-liter barrel possess the perfect wine to wood ratio for aging. Perhaps more importantly, a standard size barrel weights eighty pounds empty and 600 pounds filled with wine. Not many basement winemakers could easily move a full barrel around their cellar—unless they were built like the Terminator.


carboysThe solution?  Six-gallon glass carboys.  I have twenty-four of these containers in my cellar and they perform admirably. They are easily cleaned and moved at will, since filled they weigh around fifty-five pounds each. Oak chips fulfill the oak barrel nuance I am seeking in my wines. I learned that technique from the Aussies who use chips and oak staves to create oak impact for much of their wine.  Since I will utilize all of the carboys for the incoming ’09 vinatage, my goal is to bottle all of my wines prior to late August.  Wine will age nicely in the bottle, and in fact, mine is doing just that as I verily write.  No extended cellar aging for this winemaker…the bottle is my barrel.

So if quality fruit is key to a good wine, how does a home winemaker obtain premium wine grapes? A variety of options are available, ranging from Internet purchases to buying grapes from East Coast brokers who have fruit bulk shipped from California.

As an employee of a Virginia winery—Rappahannock Cellars—I have come to know a number of owners and professional winemakers in the industry. All of them have provided me invaluable advice about the science and art of winemaking.  And, they are willing to sell me both fresh juice and fruit.

Managing a Virginia vineyard is difficult work requiring constant attention to detail such as leaf pulling, pruning, spraying and irrigation throughout the long growing season. Many commercial wineries are loath to sell wine grapes that have taken so much work to produce. I am grateful to men like John Delmare, Andy Regan, Chris Pearmund, Stephen Barnard, Bill Swain and others who have indulged my passion for winemaking by graciously selling me a small portion of their exceptional fruit.  This year I produced the following wines:  Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tannat, and Zinfandel.


2008 Hagarty Cellars

2008 Hagarty Cellars

Given the quality and availability of the 2008 vintage, I produced about 700 bottles of red and white wine; or almost sixty cases. By comparison, an average sized Virginia winery produces about 4,000 cases annually. And to put it in even greater perspective, E&J Gallo Winery bottled 66 million cases of wine last year. That’s a lot of vino.

With the ’08 vintage behind me, I am gearing up to order the necessary supplies for the ’09 harvest, which will be arriving during September and October. I will need wine yeast, sulfur dioxide, new rubber hoses for pumping, corks, bottles, filters and other basic supplies requiring annual replenishment.

As summer moves into its final stages, excitement begins to mount throughout the wine industry. The anticipation felt by the home winemaker is equal to that of the pros. I might be small but my eagerness to produce the best bottle of wine I ever made is the same hopeful expectation of the big boys.

blue-hills11And who knows, 2009 just might be the year.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES