Harvest began today, on the most remarkably nice day of the year, with 1.58 tons of Pinot Grigio. We spent much of August testing our crops for ripeness, and today, the Pinot was just right. Sweet, sublime flavors of apple and pear, with a delicacy that will carry over to the wine we make with this grape.
By the way, Pinot Grigio is a sister grape to Pinot Noir and has light reddish brown pigmentation. Careful pressing gives the juice a surprising blondness considering the redness of the skin. The end product is a beautiful white wine with a citrus nose and lean acidity.
On a typical year, we would have harvested the Pinot Grigio about five days ago. Two weeks of cool weather in August slowed down the ripening a bit, but we caught up significantly with warm, dry weather in the latter part of the month. Overall, mild temperatures and modest rainfall have been wonderful for the flavors and aromas of these grapes. The slightly cooler than normal temperatures in July and August allowed grapes to accumulate sugar and maintain acid levels. A very dry August also helped — heavy rainfall late in the season can cause ripened grapes to split open, exposing them to pests and rot.
Not these grapes.
We took extra precautions with the Pinot Grigio this year by covering the 0.7 acres of vines with nets. The birds were loving it too much. Of course, we understand. This is a grape that is absolutely delicious all on its own. In fact we had some of the juice ourselves for lunch.
Temperatures in the vineyard this morning teetered below 14 degrees. The forecast for Napa Valley, where many California wines are grown, was 72 degrees. We’re not complaining. Indiana winters give us amazing opportunities to be creative — both in winemaking, and in dress. The colder it is outside, the more we prepare ourselves for the eight hours of labor ahead. A blistering cold morning keeps us on our toes all day. And for some of us really creative types, it keeps our drinking water in a sock:
Of course we know about layers. We were born in ’em. Carhartt? Yeah, we exchange Christmas cards every year. We all have overalls. Ross wears the arctic ones he bought out of desperation, and tucks them into his arctic boots that can sustain negative 30 degree temperatures, according to the box. That ought to do it out here.
A typical vineyard worker’s layers are as follows: 4-5 shirts, including thermals, vests and sweats; long johns under pants under overalls; vineyard boots, plus an extra pair of waterproof boots, similar to a mail carrier’s; hand and foot warmers sandwiched between two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks; a hat; and usually something to cover the face.
One might assume we drink lots of locally grown, estate bottled wine to keep warm. Actually, just tea, mostly. Chai is our fav.
Oh, and we don’t get very good cell reception out here. Or Internet reception. Too cold. In fact, we’ve replaced all our smart phones with smart wool:
Pruning at Creekbend is a winter-long project. With 54 acres to prune and only three of us in the vineyard, plus some assistance from the landscaping crew (including the lovely Sheila, above), we have quite enough to keep us busy until March. We will be working any day that it isn’t raining or blowing snow horizontally. Today, we’re pruning the Catawba field, just under 13 acres of vines.
Why do we prune? Pruning focuses the growth of the vine where we want it, and determines how much fruit a vine will produce. Grape variety, location, soil conditions and climate all play a role in how best to prune a vine.
We have 33,000 vines ranging from 2 to 18 years old. The younger vines require a lot more attention to ensure that the trunks and cordons are the best quality in order for them to last 25 or 30 years. This has been made even more difficult because of the severe freeze event we had last spring which caused a lot of tissue damage.
The older vines are more resilient, and have made it through the last two years of drought, though next year will be the telling year. We do spur pruning on all our vines, normally leaving two or three bud spurs. This regulates next year’s crop, but we still have to adjust some varieties due to their ability to produce very bountiful crops.
Last year we built a trailer that has greatly enhanced the pruning experience for the vineyard crew. As you can see in the pictures we ride on the back of the 15 foot trailer and adjust the height so the cordon is at a very comfortable level. This is not only more ergonomic, it has reduced the pruning time by more than 25 percent!
This photo says it all. Harvest has nearly come to an end. We’re wrapping up the 2012 growing season with a popular grape that has really earned its keep this year. Chambourcin. You know her in two forms: a dry red and a beautiful rosé.
Some notes about Chambourcin from Ross, our assistant vineyard manager. It’s a lovely read, so you should pour yourself a glass of something beforehand.
I think this year has been a testament to the persistence and adaptability of our favorite woody perennial. The year awakened early with mild temperatures in the spring. Pruning in the warmth was bitter sweet; we enjoyed a break from the biting cold but the warmth woke the vines up early. As the buds began emerging, the promise and beauty of the new growth was mingled with dark foreboding; an early frost would almost certainly kill the new shoots. The frost happened and, although not as bad as it could have been, the damage was disheartening. Would the vines come back and bear fruit? As the year progressed, the vines began to give subtle hints that their sweet berries would grace the vineyard in abundance!
Once clear of the perils of spring, another challenge loomed for the vines and their young fruit. Day after day and week after week passed without rain. The ground dried out and cracked. Grass lost all trace of green and stopped growing (less mowing!). This type of weather being quite unusual for this region, many were watching with great consternation. Tales of failures in other crops prompted a wary eye to be cast across the rows of vines, so recently in danger from the frost. But at the end of the year looking back, we can all be thankful for the persistence of the grape! Not only did the vines make it through, but in response to the hardships the canopies of leaves and graceful tendrils were open to the nourishing sunlight, the salubrious breezes, and the eager harvesters more than ever before. What an amazing year; this will be a vintage to enjoy with thankfulness. Thankfulness that good things come from life’s many pressures.
What do wine grapes and babies have in common? They are precious, and they don’t sleep. Traminette was ready to pick this morning, mud or shine. One more day on the vine could have exposed Traminette to the dangers of rot and over ripening, and we didn’t want to lose the optimal flavor bursting from these grapes today. The rain was just background noise.
Traminette is a delicious white grape that makes a floral/spicy aromatic wine with a hint of sweetness and a lingering aftertaste. It’s the Midwest version of Gewürztraminer, and so widely loved that it’s been chosen as Indiana’s signature wine. We have two fields ready to pick today, roughly 18 tons of fruit, and are crushing some now, actually.
Basically, the vineyard looked like a screensaver yesterday. We were lucky enough to walk through it all morning, harvesting row by row until we collected 1.5 tons of Chardonnay and eight tons (the average weight of an adult male elephant, btw) of Vignoles.
A word on Vignoles. We grow it on some of the highest and best ground at Creekbend because it is typically slow growing, small producing and prone to rot. When done right, its flavor is a beautiful balance of peach, pear and apricot. This year’s vintage tastes amazing. Skins are warm yellow and tie dyed with rustic purple. Looks weathered like your grandma’s Tupperware. Tastes as clean as the best German Riesling.
Chardonnay was harvested first thing yesterday morning and our winemakers were crushing it in batches before lunchtime. Another delicious grape, though entirely different in flavor. This fruit has a rich honey profile with lemony finish — very sweet as a grape, but after fermentation it will make a dry white wine with almost no residual sugar. We like it in either form.
We’ll be harvesting four days straight next week. Stay tuned! The fun is just beginning.
Founded in 1972, Oliver Winery is Indiana’s oldest and largest winery. We are located in Bloomington, Indiana. We make over 40 varieties of wine from classic viniferia like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio to fruit wines like Blackberry. We also make a line of wines called the Creekbend Collection which are made exclusively from grapes grown in our Monroe County vineyard, Creekbend. We operate a Tasting Room that is open year round for tasting and weekend tours. Our wines are available for sale in our Tasting Room, distributed in eighteen states and through our online store: www.oliverwinery.com.