Hands-On at Harvest 2014

 

"My" row, on the right

“My” row, on the right

Last Sunday was a truly special experience for me. You may recall my entry from last September when I stumbled upon the Cayuga harvest at a local winery, White Silo. Well, I did indeed follow up on a volunteering opportunity with their winemaker early last month, and on Sunday I had the privilege to participate in the harvest activities.  It was not only a barrel-load of fun, but highly educational.

Cayuga is a Cornell-engineered cold-climate resistant white grape that is therefore highly successful in the Northeastern United States. While this winery deals primarily in fruit wines, they do produce a few traditional grape wines. The Cayuga here is the main production, with smaller quantities of Marquette and Frontenac (also cold-hardy engineered hybrid grapes – these from the University of Minnesota), for their red. We stuck with harvesting the Cayuga on this day. All in all there were 7 rows of the grape, and I managed to fill 3 bins when I completed my row – about 250 lbs worth. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed working out there picking grapes. I grew up doing a lot of yard work as part of my household chores, and as much as I moaned about it then, I clearly developed an appreciation for working the land. And seeing as hiking and skiing are two of my favorite activities, I am without a doubt an outdoor guy. So even after four hours in the blazing sun with swarms of bees, spiders and stinging nettle in my midst, and just a cap and a little sunblock as shelter, you heard nothing but laughter from me as I traded stories with all the pickers.

After picking, we moved to the de-stemming and crushing process. Some more nice photos of this process and equipment, as well as the winery itself, can be seen in the original post. I enjoyed loading the de-stemmer and transferring the free run juice and pressed juice (all blended here – no 1st and 2nd wines just yet) into the tank. We netted about 1,250 lbs of grapes, producing about 90 gallons of wine. We wisely set up in the shade for this portion of the afternoon and it took about 3 rounds of pressing with a nice lunch break in-between and a glass of their delicious dry rhubarb wine.

The de-stemmer at work

The de-stemmer at work

I spent the rest of the afternoon with the winemakers doing the acidity and pH tests as well as calculating, activating and acclimating the yeast to then add to the tank and get things going. This really took me back to my chemistry days, as we created solutions, and used beakers and pipettes to very accurately measure the acidity level. It was fascinating – I don’t think I ever enjoyed chemistry as much. The pH test was done by a simple device that saves some time, and a calibrated scale measured the right proportion of yeast. I enjoyed stirring the must while adding the final ingredients and we sealed the tank.

As my reward I got to take home a few of my favorite bottles, including their “Upland Pastures Dry White” which I watched them harvest and press last year. This is the wine I helped create the next vintage for today. This weekend I will be back in the area for another overnight hike and am going to stop in to see how fermentation is going. Stay tuned!

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Harvest at White Silo Winery, Sherman, CT

White Silo Winery

White Silo Winery

Last weekend after a great hike on the famous Appalachian Trail, my wife and I visited the White Silo Winery in Sherman, just a few miles from where the trail enters Connecticut. Simply expecting a nice way to celebrate and loosen up the muscles a bit with a few glasses of wine, we stumbled into harvest.

While sad to have missed the opportunity to volunteer earlier that day, I got my nature fix on the trail and winemaker Eric Gorman was more than happy to give me his card so I could volunteer next year. We chatted briefly about our WSET experiences and he and his staff were also more than happy to let me watch them as they went about their work. A small but efficient operation of de-stemming, harvesting and pressing the whites was underway, the reds having been done the day before.  Once a you-pick-it fruit farm, the good folks of Cornell came along years ago with recipes for making fruit wine and the experiments began. They became a winery in 1990, with the first grape vines planted in 2010. The first crop of traditional grape-based wines were harvested in 2012.

These days they have found much success with the fruit wines, winning several awards including the Big E for their sparkling Blackberry wine. Only 2 wines are not fruit based – the white being Cayuga-based (I do not know what grape is used for the red). My guess is Cornell also provided/inspired them to grow the grape, which they bred to tolerate the cold climates in the region to much success. I’ve had this variety in many Connecticut and New York wineries so far as a result.

Cayuga grapes ready for vinifying

Cayuga grapes ready for vinifying

There were a few baskets of the just picked Cayuga bunches and we were invited to taste a few of them. We then witnessed the pressing of the grapes in their bladder press. This press was a smaller, water-based press that works in the same way as pneumatic presses I’ve seen but is vertically oriented. When the press is full of the grapes, the stems and pips were added back in both to keep the bladder shape from deforming and potentially being damaged, and to of course add some tannin. We also got to taste the just-pressed juice which was another treat! The last step was pouring it into the steel fermentation tank and checking the brix. As the next batch was being prepared, another staff member was using a de-stemmer just like the one I saw in a winery in the Finger Lakes and did my best to resist buying on the spot! Well that and the fact that I don’t have any OTHER winemaking equipment other than a carboy, some yeast and a fermentation stopper from WSET class.  I also saw the bottling machines – all the wine is grown, vinified and bottled on premises – a nice small family operation that had my wheels turning… One day.

Pressing the grapes

Pressing the grapes

We then went inside for a tasting ($7 pp including a free sangria made with 1 part dry rhubarb and 1 part blackberry over ice) where we tried several of the wines including the dry blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry wines, the rhubarb sangria, a semi-sweet rhubarb wine and the “Upland Pastures” (Cayuga) dry white and dry red. All were interesting and refreshing and we came home with 3 bottles, one of each of those I just mentioned. We enjoyed most of the blackberry wine with dinner last night. You also get to keep your tasting glasses as is traditional in most wineries. Many local shops carry the wines as well as the winery (call to order while they set up the online store).

The beautiful winery is in an old 1800’s dairy barn on a hillside in the foothills overlooking the vineyards and fruit plants below. There is also a nice terraced area to enjoy the wine, custom box lunches (reserve in advance), local cheese plates or you can bring your own. To celebrate their fruit and vegetable crop, they have the Asparagus Festival every May, The Rhubarb Festival in June, and the Raspberry Festival in September.

Dry Blackberry Wine

Dry Blackberry Wine

They also make their own mustard from berries, quince, blackcurrant and rhubarb that are all grown on their property. The Quince mustard took 1st place in the 2011 CT Food Specialty Competition, and there’s now a jar in our pantry. There was a nice art gallery in the winery with paintings and pottery from local artists on display and on sale.  If you’re a hiker, they have 3 miles of trails behind the winery called “Elaine’s trails.” Definitely give them a visit at:

http://whitesilowinery.com/
32 Rt 37 East
Sherman, CT. 06874

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Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan, CT

Land of Nod Winery

Land of Nod Farm and Winery

While I sort through and reflect on my amazing trip to Bordeaux last week, I wanted to tell you about a nice winery I visited just a few days before I left for Europe. I have passed the sign to this winery countless times in my life, usually on the way up north to ski the Berkshires or Green Mountains, and this is right off the path on Route 7 in northwestern Connecticut. My wife and I were on a quick overnight getaway to the Historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Berkshires are especially beautiful this time of year, and a favorite place to visit. This time was no exception — the leaves were in full transition, and the inn had all the history and charm I’ve expected all those times I drove by.

We decided on the way up that we would stop on the way back the next morning, having frequented enough wineries in the tri-state area to know that most are open for tastings in the late morning.

Land of Nod vineyard

Land of Nod vineyard in the distance

We passed a quarry that was truly massive in scale just down the road from the winery. Turns out, it was a limestone quarry, natch.  Well, the owner of the vineyard later informed us this quarry has been around for about 250 years and also the source of stone for the famous landmark on the wineglasses and their logo, the Beckley Furnace. This is a 40 foot high limestone blast furnace that made ‘pig iron’ from 1832-1923. It has been preserved and remains at the site as a local tourist attraction thanks to local supporters raising funds to maintain it.

Land of Nod is a farm winery, and the tasting room is situated in an old red barn, surrounded by tractors and typical farm machinery. The fruit for their non-grape based wines is also grown on site. This farm and outlying homes have been in the Adam family for as long as the furnace, and their relatives are among the original owners. There is true history here. The winery itself opened in 1998, having planted vines for the first time 4 years earlier. They take their name from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is the northernmost winery in the state (as our host jokingly said, the ‘top’ winery) and on the Connecticut wine trail.

We tasted 7 wines that morning for a mere $4. We of course walked out with no less than three bottles, one of each of our favorites.

The first on the tasting sheet was a Bianca dry white. It is made from Malvasia Bianca grapes grown elsewhere, but vinted and bottled here. You know how I feel about that – I think a winemaker can add plenty of their own style without having grown their own grapes. It was very pleasant with light acidity and pear notes, and I could enjoy this with a light chicken dish or a salad.

Land of Nod 2010 Rosê

Land of Nod 2010 Rosê

Next up was the 2010 Rosé. It too was vinted and bottled, but not grown here. It was dark-berry colored, with more berry on the nose and Reminded me of one of the high quality North Fork Rosés I had in March. It had some slight floral notes to it and overall it was a great wine. We bought one of these.

Their 2010 Ironmaster Reserve, the name inspired by the furnace and local history, was actually aged in local Connecticut oak. I don’t believe anyone else in the state is doing this. From what I’ve been able to find online, the blend is St. Croix, Marquette and Corot Noir. It had the complexity, currant, cherry and pepper of a fine European wine, and I brought one of these home too. I may add to these notes when I open my own full bottle, and have fully experienced it, perhaps with food. The tannins were soft and it was a very smooth red.

The first of the all-fruit wines we tasted, the Raspberry Wine was obviously loaded with concentrated raspberry fruit, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, you’re in luck. I don’t drink too much sweeter wine (although I had a 2005 Sauternes this past week in Bordeaux that knocked me out!) as the sugar eventually gets to me, and I also don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But I could easily enjoy a glass with an apple or mixed berry tart and be content. Note it was not overly sweet. They also made a Blueberry-raspberry medley along the same lines with of course, some blueberry. It too was semi-sweet.

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Wine and Ironmaster Reserve

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Wine and Ironmaster Reserve

Their locally-famous Chocolate Raspberry dessert wine was next. We tried this with chocolate-covered coffee beans, and it was beyond delicious. High acidity, and full-bodied, and almost like a port — a definite winner. There was no question about buying this one, and I did.

Last but not least, the Peach Wine was 100% peach like its blueberry and raspberry counterparts but as peachy as you can imagine, even the fuzz.

Visit them here
Land of Nod Winery

99 Lower East Canaan Rd. Canaan, CT. 06024

http://www.landofnodwinery.com

Harvest Festival – Haight-Brown Vineyards, Litchfield, CT.

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Happy International Grenache Day! I will definitely be opening one tonight in celebration… now onto the story!

Last Saturday, while planning a visit to an upcoming harvest festival for some first-time-ever grape stomping and tasting, an unexpected opening appeared in our schedule.  And, I discovered there were several of them on this weekend in the area as well. As an added bonus, my wife’s sister was already in town, so she could share the occasion with us as we did in Delaware. We promptly got in the car and made the just-over-an-hour drive to Haight-Brown Vineyards, on the Connecticut wine trail. This was our first visit to the trail in our home state, and being mostly highway, we were there and back in no time.  The drive through the Naugatuck valley and up into the Litchfield hills was beautiful, as was the weather.

Main tasting room, Haight-Brown

The winery and main tasting room, Haight-Brown

When we arrived at the Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown, a band was playing, the lot was full and lines were long. Throughout a few misunderstandings on our part as newcomers, the staff was incredibly friendly, helpful, and professional. Off to a great start already… People were enjoying themselves everywhere in the newly-harvested vineyard rows and surrounding grassy areas, set up either on picnic tables or their own portable chairs. Fortunately ours were still in the trunk from soccer games and camping trips, so we followed suit… I had never had lunch in a vineyard, as for most of the season it was off-limits unless you paid for a special tour or experience. A staff member told us they had record crowds this weekend. In fact such record crowds on the previous day that there were no grapes left for stomping! Well, good for them. This is only my first or second harvest since I entered the world of wine, and there are many for me to experience in the years ahead. I will stomp grapes, and you will get to see pictures! There were still a few unpicked (albeit unripened, and not picked for that reason) grapes on the vines. Just enough to make it more authentic. I picked one or two and down the hatch! Not quite that tasty, but still, all part of the experience. I also don’t know which varietals they were. The term for these unripened, undeveloped grapes is millerandage. It happens.

It turns out that much of the crowd was dispersing at this time as it was almost 2:30pm and lunchtime had passed. By the time we got in the first line, it (and all the others) had virtually disappeared and we made our way through the tasting at our own pace.

Millerandage

Millerandage

Speaking of the tasting, lets get to the wines. There were eight wines that we tasted on the tasting card, spread out at several tasting booths inside and tables outside. The glass you got at the first tasting was yours to use and keep for the remainder and bring home. Good news, cause without a dishwasher, I keep breaking ours!

We started with the barrel-aged Chardonnay. As you know, I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but this was pleasant. The worst thing you can do to Chardonnay in my opinion is over-oak it. This was not the case. I found it to be light on the oak and easy-drinking with some light citrus notes. Not a white Burgundy, but then again, sometimes those can be too intense for me too. This is a Chardonnay I would drink.  Next came the ‘Railway White.’ This is a dry white made from Seyval Blanc, an early-ripening hybrid that does well in cooler climates like these and north in the Finger Lakes. I enjoyed this one more than the next, the ‘Covertside White,’ a fruitier white made from their estate Seyval blanc grapes. This makes me assume the Seyval in the Railway white was made from must from somewhere else, but I could be wrong. There was nothing unpleasant about this wine, I just preferred the Railway because it was drier. Their Riesling was your basic German-style Riesling, and I really enjoyed this one. We bought a bottle of this, and I am glad they have the blue glass and standard Riesling-shaped bottle as that to me is part of the Riesling experience. Classicly off-dry with honey and mineral notes on the palate. The ‘Picnic Red‘ was a fruity, unique red, ‘made from four Italian varieties,’ one of which was Barbera, a favorite of mine that I drink often.  I couldn’t tell you the rest, and it’s not on their site. I liked it, probably because it was primarily Barbera, and I just love Italian reds. I’d need a good food pairing and more than a sip to give it a full critique though. We moved on pretty quickly, so I’ll have to go back and give it a go with a full glass and some Italian sausage.

Haight-Brown Riesling and 'Big Red'

Haight-Brown Riesling and ‘Big Red’

The ‘Morning Harvest‘ was a full-bodied richer red, made from Malbec. A good wine, but again with rich reds like this, I feel I need to sit down and have a meal and a full glass to fully experience the intensity. At $20 a bottle, it might be a tough sell compared to a French or Argentinian Malbec at comparible price. But for Connecticut, it was pretty darn good.  My favorite was the next wine, the “Big Red,” a Syrah made from must from the Alexander Valley in North Sonoma County, California. You could tell. It had all the smoke and toast and depth of a good California red, and full of typical Syrah spice. Big indeed, and we brought home two. Which are now gone. This one really made an impression on me and was worth the $20 price. There are no lost points in my opinion for using must from elsewhere. It is done all the time, even in top wine-producing regions, and it was aged and fermented here, instilling the stamp of this winemaker. This was a full-bodied, rich and aromatic wine with a nice finish. Last was the “Honey Nut Apple,” a sweet spicy wine made from fermented apple juice with local honey and cinnamon added. This is a nice fall sipper – pair it with a pumpkin pie!

I was excited to see the grape press and harvesting trays still out on the grounds from the recent harvest, and of course to point them out to my wife and sister-in-law with accompanied lesson! I’m like a kid seeing a fire truck when I encounter these things, and it definitely adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Harvesting and pressing machinery

Harvesting and pressing machinery

They also had a cheese monger, and a nice gift shop with crackers, jams, and accessories and souvenirs. So, you could stock up on cheese and crackers and head out to the vineyard to enjoy with your wine. During the event they had a BBQ tent, which also had cheese trays that came with 3 of their shop varieties and some of their blueberry jam, and crackers. This is what we had with our wines. The bees seem to love the jam as much as we did.  And we discovered they have a nearby wine train. I went on the Napa Valley wine train about ten years ago, and it was an amazing experience.

We will be taking my sister-in-law back for a ride on that wine train on her birthday weekend at the end of October. Can’t wait to write about that one, let alone experience it! I am hoping to taste more local wines from other vineyards on the train, but if not, I will be back on the Connecticut Wine trail next season… its right in my back yard.

I never expected I’d make it to so many vineyards this year throughout the cycle and I am so glad that I have. I get to end the season officially in Bordeaux in just over a week, for a company trip. I cannot wait… Maybe there will be some grapes to stomp there? Don’t think I’ll get to another vineyard before then, but that’s a pretty fantastic way to end a season.