July 11, 2011
Last week was spent as most other weeks; a mix between vineyard work, bottling, and lab work. I am actually growing to not dislike vineyard work so much anymore. The best time to work in the vineyard is in the morning before it gets really hot. We need to get back out there and really comb through the St. Croix and Foch vineyards. They are definitely overgrown. Maybe that will happen later this week.
I had the chance on Thursday to run a few tests for volatile acidity (VA) on a couple of different wines. I had only seen this test demonstrated once by August in Wine Composition and Analysis. VA is a rather common problem in a lot of wineries because it is caused by microbes, such as Acetobacter, that create acetic acid (vinegar). This is most definitely considered to be a wine fault and not at all desirable in wine. The legal limit is .14 g/100mL for red wines and .12 g/100mL for white wines. Chris had mixed up a semi-sweet red last Friday and put in a cooled tank. She didn’t bother to top it off because the cooler would be on all weekend and we added sulfur to it. When we came back the next week, VA had formed because for some reason the cooler had been shut off over the weekend. I ran a VA analysis on it and discovered that the wine did indeed have VA and it was outside of the legal limit. The test was not one of the easiest I have run, but it really wasn’t that complicated either. If I run it a few more times, I’m sure that I will get the hang of it completely. There are not very many ways to remove VA in wine and the only one that is highly successful is reverse-osmosis (RO). RO machines are not cheap and if a wine needs to have VA removed, many wineries hire a company to come out with an RO machine and remove it. Chris decided to try to blend it away and so far it seems to be working.
The exciting events happened on Friday and Saturday last week. Chris, Jim (one of Chris’ close friends who makes wine as an amature), and I traveled to Springfield, Illinois where we attended a workshop on Winery Sustainability and Design. The workshop was lead by Bruce Zoecklein, a well known enologist who works at Virginia Tech. Chris and Bruce both went to Fresno together, so they are long time acquaintances. We had dinner Friday night with Bruce Zoecklein and I got a chance to talk to him a little. We somehow ended up talking about the classic debate between art and science in winemaking. He said that winemaking is not just an art or a science, but a little of both. There are some winemakers who believe all the new technology makes the wine worse and it is no longer as good as it once used to be and then there are others that won’t do a single thing to their wine until they have scientific numbers to prove it. The best winemakers are the ones that use a some of each and that is what I had thought all along. Hopefully, when the time comes, I will be able to do that.
The workshop was on Saturday at a community college in Springfield. Some of the topics included winery design, marketing, sustainable winery architecture, and an introduction to the TTB. Bruce Zoecklein talked mainly about winery design and business planning. There were a lot of people that were thinking of opening a winery at the workshop and he mainly catered to them. It was great to hear all of the details about winery planning because I guess I might end up opening one some day. Paul Wagner, a professor of wine marketing at Napa College, talked about winery marketing. He was very good speaker and knew a lot about the industry. I think it would be great if Cornell had a class like the one he teaches or had him come out as a guest speaker. He wrote a book called “Wine Marketing” and I am planning on buying it before I take Marketing in the fall. Joe Chauncey, a winery architect, talked about sustainable winery architecture and energy saving systems. His firm is LEED certified which means that he builds green certified buildings. He had some absolutely wonderful designs including one that took an old steel shed and turned it into an impressive west coast winery. Jim Neely, a field investigator for the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), talked about the TTB. He was very funny and extremely helpful. As you might imagine, many wineries don’t like the TTB and he says that he has only ever given his talks either right after lunch or right after dinner when everyone is a little drunk.
All in all the workshop was very informative. I received a workshop handbook that has all of the powerpoints and the papers to go along with the workshop. All of the speakers were able to give a lot of great pointers for new wineries and help existing ones. The only disagreement that I had was the fact that they kept using wineries on the west coast as examples. It was almost like they were trying to push the Midwest to be more like California. I think that if the wineries here wanted to be more like California, then they would be in California. Illinois is unique and different and that is why people enjoying coming to the wineries here. Hopefully in the future, a little more time will be spent in areas that are successful wine regions besides the west coast, like New York, Virginia, or Missouri.
I spent a large part of today in the lab again taking tests of the Sangria that we were mixing up for bottling tomorrow. People just love the Sangria, especially during the summer served with fresh fruit. Chris makes a lot of blended wines that change every time she makes them and they are all delicious. It’s hard to believe that my time in Illinois is almost half over. I know that the next 4 weeks will be just as amazing as the last 4!