Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Winemaking Trio

A lot of you might know that back in 2009 I teamed up with a couple other winemakers in Pennsylvania to create the first cooperative red blend in the state.  We took as our model the wine Tierce produced by Fox Run, Red Newt, and Anthony Road up in the Finger Lakes in New York.  But, being more interested in reds, we turned our thoughts to the really nice, full-bodied wines from the 2007 vintage.

The winemakers in question were myself, Joanne Levengood from Manatawny Creek Winery (Douglasville), and Brad Knapp from Pinnacle Ridge Winery (Kutztown).  Every year the three of us get together and bring samples of all of our barrels to a central non-neutral location.  Not that it matters.  We all know each other well enough after years of doing this that there really is no home-field advantage.  For that matter, it's not a competition either.  At least that's what we say.....

Suffice it to say that we start early in the morning tasting wines, beginning with the Chardonnays as a way to get the ball rolling.  We all make Chardonnay, but I've been starting to wonder why.  We can make blockbuster wines from time-to-time, but since when does anyone expect a world-class Chard from PA?  And, to make matters worse, who would pay for one?  It gets depressing when we don't get the full respect we deserve.  So, we're still playing around with different things.  Chardonnay is a great experimental wine as it takes a winemaker's influence readily, and it's easy to mold and shape.

But we quickly move on to the reds, the real reason most of us winemakers are winemakers.  I'm sure that if I was in a cooler climate, I would come to love white wine production.  But for me, there's just something about punching down the red fermentations in the fall, racking the wines to barrels, sampling from those barrels, and then creating blends at the end of the process.  It's more hands-on, nitty-gritty, getting-into-it winemaking.  It's why I'm a winemaker.

We spend numerous hours in the day sniffing and swirling and spitting--yes, spitting--stopping barely for a break for lunch.  After doing this for years, we have a comfortable rapport with each other, and we not only expect honesty from each other, we also have to deliver honestly.  We all have egos, of course.  You can't make great wine without one.  But with that you need thick skins.  If someone says, "Carl, it smells musty, like earthy concrete" when it's not supposed to, I have to check myself from saying "But that's what I was going for" because we all know the wine shouldn't smell that way.  So, I re-examine what the hell might have made this nice barrel smell offensively, trying to figure out if I have a TCA infection or some other weirdness.  It's like when the doctor orders more tests because they can't figure out what's wrong....  Then I realize that it was probably a dirty sample bottle that I re-used this past time--a hypothesis confirmed when I got home and the barrel was fine.   

After years of doing this, we finally made a wine together.  Which is somewhat of a nice culmination of events, because in one regard we've been making wine together all these years.  It turns out that we forgot about all the headaches of finding a label that worked for us, bottles that would work, and all the rest of the logistical problems we dealt with almost two years ago.  And so we thought we might give it another try with some 2010 reds.  We think.

We'll just have to get together again and try some more barrels this summer to find out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Renewing Things

So the craziness that is Tour de Tanks has taken off.  We had a bit slower weekend as our opener, not surprising considering the bad weather on Saturday and the terrible weather on Sunday.  Only 320 people came through for the whole weekend, down from around 750 in 2010.

This is not a complaint.  Far from it.  We have been working since the holidays to renovate our tasting room into a bigger space.  Last fall we experienced four separate days when we didn't have enough space our tasting bar to accommodate all of the people wanting to taste wine.  (Apologies if you were one of the ones who had to wait.)  So, we decided to rip out a wall and open the space up a bit more.  My father-in-law Doug did the lion's share of the work, including most of the demo and the studding out of the walls.  With new paint on the walls and ceiling, it almost looks as if we have a new place.

The piece de resistance is our new bottle storage system on the new wall we created.  It's something I saw originally at Deloach winery (a well-known Pinot producer in Sonoma.)  The bottles are stored horizontally on metal "fingers" that stick out from the wall.  It creates a large wall of wine that really shows off the great labels Kris created.  We punch it up a bit by highlighting the bottles with some spotlights.  All in all, I think it looks pretty sharp.

How does this tie in with Tour de Tanks you might ask?  Well, we suffered from lower attendance (but still the third highest of all the wineries) and yet our sales compared to last year were the same.  That's just crazy. 

I'm not sure what the reason for this is, but I would like to think it's my great presentation about Merlot and how much better a grape than Chambourcin it is.  But I'm pretty sure that's not the reason. 

It's probably my staff.  I added extra people on to help this year, and so all the visitors coming through get extra-special attention.  My folks are great, and I can't believe how lucky we are to have them.

And yet, the look of the new space could be making people like our wines a little better.  As a winemaker, I'd like to think this wouldn't be the case.  ("Since when should surroundings affect the taste of what's in the bottle!")  But humans are strange, complex, and predictably irrational beings.

Next step is to finish tiling the floor.  We'll see if that helps, too.