Here at Chateau Morrisette, we are in the heart of our busy harvest season. The first grapes of 2016 were a small 2.5 ton lot of Chardonel from Patrick County. In the four weeks since then, we have received, processed, and are currently fermenting all of our Petit Manseng, Viognier, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Niagara, Concord, and part of our Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chambourcin. So far, we have worked with about 330 tons of grapes and there are plenty more on the way!
As grapes ripen, the berries soften, sugar begins to accumulate at a faster pace, acidity begins to decrease, and flavor compounds develop. When deciding when to harvest a variety, we take these factors into consideration along with upcoming weather events and the logistics of organizing a picking crew and transportation of the grapes to the winery. However, when fruit is ripe, it is all hands on deck and we work quickly to ensure fruit is harvested at the optimal time.
When white varieties arrive at the winery, we chill, weigh, destem, and press the berries to a white settling tank. We then chill the juice to settle all of the solids to the bottom of the tank. Subsequently, we pump off the clarified juice, warm it, adjust nutrients and sugar content, and finally inoculate it with a yeast strain specifically selected for the variety. After a tank is inoculated, there is a short period before active fermentation called lag phase where yeast are reproducing to their full biomass. After this, the yeast begin to ferment and convert sugar to heat, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. We monitor the sugar decrease and temperature to help us make decisions to manage the fermentation rate. Once sugar is depleted, the tank is considered wine and treated as such.
Red varieties ripen in the same manner, but are generally ready to be harvested later than the whites. When they arrive, they are handled in a different manner than the white varieties. All of the color and much of the flavor in a red wine comes from the skins. Because of this, reds are only destemmed and crushed before the juice, skins, and seeds are pumped to a red fermentation tank.
After inoculation, heat and carbon dioxide produced by fermentation begins to push berries to the top of the fermenter forming what we call a cap. This cap holds heat and, in order to homogenize temperature and extract color and flavor, we pump fermenting must (juice containing skins, seeds, and stems) from the bottom of the tank over the top to break up the cap several times each day. The way we choose to manage pump-overs and the rate of fermentation helps to determine the final style of the wine.
When a red fermentation is dry, we will drain the free flowing wine from the tank. The skins that are left still contain a significant amount of wine, so they are dug out of the tank and transferred to one of our presses. The press fraction of the wine is either blended back to the free run or kept separate for another blend.