Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Wisteria in Winter
During the winter, our neighbors at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard reduce the days and hours that they are open to one weekend per month, usually a holiday weekend – with the exception that if there’s good weather, they might spontaneously open, as they did during January (their next scheduled opening is Valentine’s Day weekend).
I made a stop over there with Tessie both of the January weekends they were open, enjoying a glass of wine, a chat with Sue and Moussa, and a walk with the dog out into the pasture and vines.
They keep a flock of Romney sheep at the farm, and when the weather is as good as it has been this month, the sheep spend a lot of their time out of the barn in the pasture. I’m always curious about how Tessie, the border collie, is going to react to them – I watch for some gene to stir in there and for her to figure out her ancestors would see the encounter as a job to be done. Not a hint from the dog, but the sheep definitely know what’s up.
They lift, and stand watching the dog for signs that they should react. They do bunch together in preparation for being shepherded somewhere. But by the time they’ve reacted this way, Tessie has already moved on out down the path, heading out for the woods and the stream. Her job is simple, to keep me company, I guess.
There’s no shortage of farm chores at the vineyard, and that’s what Sue and Moussa told me they spend a lot of their “found time” doing during the winter. They’ll clear some of the back lot, for example, and last year’s canes need to be pruned down to the stock vines. You can observe the progress in a vineyard by walking by the ends of the rows, where you’ll find a pile of old brush.
During my most recent visits I had a chance ask a few questions I’ve been meaning to get to – one regarding the lugs that we used during the harvest last fall, and a second about one of their vintages, the Merlot Wild.
First, about the lugs – these yellow crates. When you pick the grapes, these are used to collect them. Next, the lugs are gathered and hauled back to the crush pad, where the winemaking begins.
One of the chores I took on last fall was rinsing them off so that they could be used again for the next variety, or put away, as the case may be. I noticed all of these vineyard names on the sides of the lugs and was curious about it. Of course, WFV stands for Wisteria, but what of Mount Juliet, Glendower, Hat Creek, and the others that were mixed in?
I imagined that, like so many things, these were just old names of vineyards that were now defunct, or that perhaps had changed names – this is used equipment that you can find at auctions and similar sales.
I thought that they might even have ended up here from Napa or Sonoma, or the New York growing area; however, a Google search revealed that these places still exist, and there are vineyards there – still in operation.
Sue cleared up the puzzle for me. There are a couple of markets and auctions for grapes, and they’re not always careful about getting the crates back to the proper owner. So at “WFV,” they’ve ended up with a few odds and ends – note that Mount Juliet in particular has traditionally sold their grapes in bulk, rather than making wine with them.
As for the other question I had, it was related to what’s so special about the Merlot Wild vintage at Wisteria – is it something to do with the grape variety? For this one, Moussa explained to me that what’s special about the vintage is that the grapes are fermented with the native yeasts that are present in the vineyard where they are grown.
From my brewing experience, I know that different yeast strains can contribute uncontrollable tastes to beer, so we try to manage exposure to wild yeast. I understood that this was important in wine making too, so it surprised me to learn about an approach that used wild yeast.
Moussa said they are able to control for the yeast by limiting how often the grapes are sprayed while they grow, and especially within the last four to six weeks before they harvest. This way, each berry collects some yeast, which stays with the juice once the grapes are crushed. No further yeast needs to be added to ferment the wine, and it’s left to nature to contribute the unique flavor and character of this wine.
As I mentioned, the vineyard is on reduced hours during the winter, but they are opening from February 14 - 18. There'll be chocolate fondue in the tasting room too - that's something to look forward to! For additional information check their web page at: