Stomping and pressing delicious sweet grapes
I have long had a dream to make a Late Harvest wine. Last year we had the right conditions to accomplish just that: a long warm fall that seemed to just go on and on. We left the Viognier grapes hanging in the hope that they would gather enough sugar before any big rain storms came through. On Halloween, in early morning fog, we finally harvested the very sweet Viognier grapes. The sugar level was at 30 Brix (Brix is approximately the same as percentage sugar). Since the grapes were leathery and tough we needed to soften the skins before pressing the next day. We climbed into the bins with rubber boots on (sanitized, no worries) and stomped as best we could, then left the bins covered in dry ice overnight.
The following day it was time to press. Since this was a small lot we had decided to use a manual wooden basket press. How hard can it be to press 3 tons of grapes manually? Turns out it took 12 hours. Bengt, Phyllis, and I took turns shoveling grapes into the press, pressing and then dumping the skins back out in the vineyard. Good friends who were visiting did not get the sightseeing I am sure they had hoped for, but were put to work pressing as well. The following weeks the juice slowly fermented in the cool, 55 F barrel room. After almost 6 weeks there was 5.5% sugar, 15.5% alcohol and a delicious aroma and taste. It reminded me of apricot and mango. Time to stop the fermentation and let the wine mature in barrels over winter.
I spent some time thinking about the packaging of the wine. I found a thin, tall, clear glass bottle, so you could see the pale yellow straw color of the wine. I got the bottle screen printed in gold and used gold capsules to create a package that would stand out on a dinner table at time for desserts or make a very nice gift. So after designing the package and screen printing the bottles, the final step was bottling. This proved to be a bit of a challenge when the thin, tall bottle threatened to topple over on the moving belt during bottling. The whole process proceeded much slower than usual.
Now we have released the wine, and I am happy to say that we are all very pleased with it. A true labor of love. I enjoy pairing it with various after dinner dishes such as almond tart, berry pies, apple tart, or gruyere cheese. And I am also finding that just sipping a glass is dessert in and by itself.