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Winemaker's Journal — Grapes become wine

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Cooler, wetter weather the past couple of weeks has slowed ripening of grapes in my little Cashmere vineyard. Some varieties are fully ripe, others are now in a race with vine-killing frost that is sure to come sometime this month.A little wind and few hours of sunshine offered a brief window of opportunity last Sunday, allowing me to pick my two short rows of ripe chardonnay and pinot gris grapes. With hungry birds and deer nibbling away through the nets, the harvest was less than I had anticipated. Grapes hanging on the vine always look like more than end up being in the lug.But the approximately 25 pounds of each should combine nicely to make about three gallons of white, or slightly pink, wine. I blended the two varieties last year and the results are quite good.It only took about an hour to pick the grapes. I ran them separately — the rich yellow chardonnay first, then the tight bunches of pink and purple pinot gris — through my apple crusher, then pulled out the stems and squeezed the grapes further with my hands. I poured the resulting crushes into five gallon buckets, added a little sulfite and pectin and let them sit overnight.Letting the juice sit on the skins for 24 hours will give the resulting wine more body, flavor and a little color, from the darker pinot gris. That's fine with me. It will take longer to clear, but I'm in no hurry. I blended the two juices into a five-gallon glass carboy and added yeast Monday evening. I stoppered the carboy with an airlock and placed it in the cellar where it can ferment slowly at about 55 degrees. The process worked well for all my white wines last year, so I hope it will work again.Upstairs, the dark purple merlot grapes I purchased and crushed the week before are in the final stages of warmer fermentation. I used a heating pad to keep the ferment going more quickly at about 75 degrees. Red grapes remain on their skins through the first week or two of fermentation. I'll run that five gallons of crush through my press this weekend and transfer the wine to a carboy for slower secondary fermentation that can take months.The lemberger grapes in my vineyard should be ripe enough to pick this weekend, so I may get that small yield going as well. Cabernet franc and sangiovese are still a couple weeks from being sweet enough to pick. Whether they will get there or not is entirely up to the weather. A vine-killing frost will stop sugar production. Sugar can be added to get adequate alcohol production, but the best wine comes from fully ripe grapes.I'll also buy some cabernet sauvignon grapes. My vineyard site is too cold to successfully grow merlot and cabernet sauvignon, my favorite varieties. So I buy grapes from vineyards in warmer areas. If all goes well, I should have several small batches of different red wines that I can blend to my liking when they're finished next year. This is a busy, exciting time of year for all who make wine.

 I celebrated the process the other night by opening a bottle of 2005 Lemberger, the first wine I made from my own grapes planted in 2003. I didn't think much of it when I bottled it seven years ago. Amazing, what a few years ageing will do to improve a bottle of wine. It was delicious, in my own unbiased opinion. Unfortunately, there's only a few bottles left.

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