OK, today is a good day to transition from the past to the future. The wine license from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) finally arrived. It is only one of FIVE licenses (Federal, State, and County). Funny, we were able to work as health care professionals with only one license, while it takes five to make farmhouse cider.
It's always worth the while to gain certification in advancing one's understanding of the intricacies and responsibilities of producing a product which will ultimately be consumed by fellow countryfolk.
On the left, certificates of study in pesticide management, and beverage hygiene.
Cava-style sparkling wine requires a high acidity, and so the grapes are harvested before they reach the maximum sugar ripeness. Today, we were able to bring in the Chardonnay, and Pinots. Their combine Brix was around 17, which provided us with a slight pucker from the wonderful tanginess of the must.
Harvest, (or "Verema", in Catalan) of our Chardonnay.
The summer was dry and sunny, which should make for a fabulous harvest: More reminiscent of Napa Valley than the Shenandoah Valley. The fall, however, has been extremely dry, and so a number of cider trees and grapevines that were planted last spring have wilted, and some have died. It is a struggle to keep the "newly planted" alive by hauling water every second or third day. That means hundreds of gallons of water, since we have consciously refrained from irrigating.
The cider, in this case Hewes Virginia Crab, has reached "bone dry" fermentation, and is ready to be "racked" into a clean fermenter, where it will sits for months as it continues to clarify before eventually undergoing a second fermentation once placed in champagne bottles. During clarification, gravity pulls solids to the bottom of the fermenter, and cold stabilizes the cider by precipitating unbound acids to the bottom of the tank that otherwise tend to make the liquid cloudy. Clarifying cider is more challenging than wine because it contains a great deal of pectin.
Testing and tasting the newly fermented cider, before racking and fining.
Winter is fast approaching, and freezing temperatures have begun to ice over the pond. The fish are less active and the turtles in hiding. The frogs are nowhere to be heard. What a lovely time to be warm in the winery...
An early harvest allowed fermentation to finish in November. It’s a wonderful base wine made of Virginia Crab, and it’s ready to be bottled for the second fermentation. The bidules are in place, and the bottles are ready to be capped.
Once capped, second fermentation is allowed to finish in the bottle over the next weeks in the relative warmth of the winery. The bottles are then transferred in December to the underground cave to rest for years in a steady cool temperature.
A placid day before the work of bottling begins.
This is when the fireplaces come in handy.
It's also a time when stores of goods are opened from the pantry, where the last harvest from the vegetable garden were stored.
The bottles are left to lay sur lie in the cellar, where the wine matures, the bubbles become smaller and more compact, and a little bit of magic occurs to create an extraordinarily transformed sparkling cider from the original gnarled heritage trees and somewhat disagreeable, though noble, crab apple.
The pantry door's open, and canned fruits & vegetables stacked high attest to a bountiful "victory garden".
It's the new year, and the present harvest has been sent to bed, so attention is turned towards the previous year's vintage. Bottles are taken from the cellar and readings are taken on acidity, alcohol content, sulfite levels, and residual sugar. Uncle Sam wants to know certain things about the final product before a label is approved, and what we can't determine in our lab, we send off to a professional lab.
Our winery's "lab".
Once the lab gives the go ahead, the bottles are moved from the cave back to the winery and the process of purification takes place in the riddling rack. Ours is a vintage LeBan, the last producer of manual oak riddling racks and now, unfortunately, out of business as modern mechanic riddling has supplanted the traditional artisan ways. It takes 6 weeks to hand riddle 120 bottles. Then, they are clean as a whistle, and only need to be purged of the sediment that has accumulated in the neck the bottle.
After years of freezing the bottle neck by hand before disgorging, we broke down and bought this Italian machine.
It takes about 5 minutes to freeze the sediment at the tip of the bottle neck before purging it with the ice plug formed by dipping the bottles into this lovely machine. No more frostbite!
One of the most awaited moments in champagne wine making is degorgement. After spring's cultivation, fall's harvest, winter's fermentation and a year's storage in cellar conditions, it's time to see if it has all been worth the effort and the wait.
Ah, well worth the wait! This is a unique product, which makes us proud.
Corking sparkling wine is a blast. It's tricky, though, as it is not at all easy to get a champagne cork down the bottle neck, and then wiring the cage at just the right height, well, it takes years of study and practice if one's approach is manual.
And then we stumbled upon this great Swiss corker. For a turn-key operation that avoids automated machinery like the plague, this time-tested mechanical wonder produces a perfect, professional closure.
Now all that's left to do is to paste on the recently approved label...
It happens every year, but it is always a miracle when the shoots raise their heads..
It happens every year, late frost. What can we say? Grin and bear it, and say goodbye to those little shoots. Others will take their place, thankfully.
Fast forward to December, 2021: Our family of wines are ready for the real world:
Sparkling wines under Sappho brand: Blanc de Blanc, Blanc des Noirs, and Brut Nature.
Ciders under Window's Watch brand: Heritage Cider, and Brut Apple Cider.
All told, a dozen medals, including Double Gold and Best in Class.
We won our first Gold in 2005, but had to wait until 2021 to compete as a commercial winery. The result has been very satisfying.
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