Like many of you, when I first started drinking wine, I didn’t know much about it. I knew what color it was and if it was sweet or dry, but only because I had tasted it, certainly not because I had any wine knowledge. After starting with the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the information that I’ve learned about wine is tenfold compared to my younger years. It has given me a significantly greater appreciation for what I’m drinking.
So what exactly goes into making a bottle of wine? It starts with the rootstock. In order for vinifera vines to survive NY’s colder climate, they need to be grafted on tolerant rootstock that could withstand freezing temperatures and cold winds. They’re also resistant to certain diseases and bugs known to the area. It takes about 3 years before these vines will produce fruit worthy of creating wine. But from day 1, they’re taken care of by the vineyard crew.
The vineyard crew is an integral part to the success of the vines. After harvest, they do some pre-winter pruning to get the vine prepped for the colder months. They also hill dirt mounds around the base of the stump, where the graft meets the rootstock, to help give it extra warmth from the expected below zero temperatures. They clean and put everything away after harvest, and grease all the equipment for its winter hibernation. After the vines dormant winter, the crew begins their spring preparations. Spring is the most intense time, even more so than harvest. There are many vineyard projects that need to happen before bud break. They need to finish pruning, tying, trellis work, weed control and more, all to be done in a short window of time. After bud break, they need to maintain the vineyards based on Mother Nature’s mood swings and work their way to harvest.
During harvest, the winemaker takes over and starts directing the vineyard crew on when to harvest what. The longer the grape ripens on the vine, the more sugary it will get, which will vastly affect the taste of the overall product. The vineyard crew is at the mercy of what the winemaker requires to create his or her masterpiece! Harvest is the culmination of why the vineyard crew does what they do. It can consist of waking up early and harvesting before dawn, harvesting in the scorching heat, or hunkering down and waiting out a storm. It can mean driving all over Hades and back because there are 2 different grape varieties in this particular area, but one didn’t meet the winemaker’s needs when you were there the first time. Once the grapes are picked, they go back to the press deck to be stemmed, crushed, filtered and put in a tank for the next step.
The winemaking doesn’t always happen right after harvest for every variety. Some juices sit and wait patiently for their turn. First they work on the wines that use a primary fermentation process and then the malo-lactic fermentation process begins. Sometimes these fermentations take place quickly and other times they seem to drag on. Yeast and bacteria are fickle creatures!
Once the fermentation process is over, the production team gets the bottling line running. Obviously, not all wines are bottled right away. Many of the reds need time to age. A particular wine may also sit in a tank completed for some time waiting for the current vintage to become closer to selling out. The bottling process can be done at any point all year round. Some wineries have a bottling station right on site with a team that runs it. Other smaller wineries hire a mobile bottling company to come and bottle as much as they can in their allotted time.
Has this answered the question ‘what goes into a bottle of wine?’ Maybe it’s more like WHO goes into a bottle of wine? It’s the person responsible for grafting the vine onto the best rootstock, the crew that plants each row, which sometimes varies from the crew who painstakingly maintains each row of vines year round. That same hardworking crew that then harvests each variety of grape, treating them like their own child. It’s the winemakers who concoct the perfect combination of yeast, sugars and grape juice to make your favorite wine, and the team that has perfected the art of bottling. We certainly can’t forget those individuals who work on naming the wine, writing a description that perfectly describes what you taste and smell, designing the perfect label and then skillfully marketing it. And we definitely don’t want to forget tasting room staff that are expertly trained on each wine, giving you the best wine tasting experience you can get. And lastly, there’s you, who buys that bottle of wine and tells their friends about it.
Katherine Chase is the events coordinator for the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, America’s First. Taste a bit of history. To learn more, visit cayugawinetrail.com.