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.
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!