Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mid-Harvest Report

Wow...this year started with anticipation of an early harvest due to a hot August month on the West Coast.  However, September arrived with an abrupt cool down and grape ripening of many varietals & regions slowed to a crawl.  I was literally gnashing my teeth as I was waiting for grapes to arrive.  Well, be careful of what you ask for! 

The surprise of the season was that the first juice to arrive was actually pinot noir from Westport Rivers Vineyard here in Westport, MA.  Yes, certain varietals grow well in MA along the southern shores of Cape Cod.  This pinot noir is destined for a light rose style that will be released in May of 2014 just in time to enjoy for summer.

A full 10 days later, I finally had the first of my West Coast grapes arrive...and then the deluge descended!  Within 4 days, over 2 tons of grapes had been crushed and were fermenting away.  Petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon from the Suisin Valley just to the southeast of Napa Valley in CA.  Merlot & viognier from Knights Hill Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA of the Yakima Valley in southeast WA.  The red grapes were destemmed & fermented in open vats while the viognier ended up being barrel fermented in a new French oak barrel.  I'm only planning on completing the alcohol fermentation & MLF in the barrel & then move to a SS tank to provide just a touch of oak for creaminess & palate roundness.

So far, I'm very impressed with the fruit this year.  The winery is full of big fruity aromas--blackberry from the petite sirah, raspberry from the cab sauv, & blueberry/mulberry from the merlot.  The viognier smells like honeyed peaches & floral blossems as it bubbles away.  As you can imagine, the winery is a little busy at the moment! 

But we're not done yet!  Chardonnay juice from Westport Rivers has just arrived and will also undergo barrel fermentation.  Tomorrow, the Durell Syrah from Sonoma County arrives as frozen must (to capture the flavors & aromas straight off the vine).  This weekend I go down to RI to pick merlot & cabernet franc for the limited production of "Merrimac Left Bank".  I'm told the WA cabernet franc & Paso Robles petite verdot will arrive towards the end of next week.  And last but not least, the Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel will be custom crushed & frozen for me so I can wait to deal with that in a month or so.

Lots of fermentations going on.  The petite sirah and possibly merlot will be pressed on Saturday so a little space will be freed up for the incoming grapes.  The cab sauv is undergo a very slow but steady fermentation--the color extraction due to the low temp extended fermentation is simply out of this world!

And on top of that, there's the Carm-ah that's almost ready to bottle.  A winemaker's job is never done...and man do I love this job!


Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 Harvest is Here! thing you never quite forecast is how much work it is getting all the last minute details of a basement finishing project completed.  Seems like I have not seen the light of the sun this summer while I was painting, painting, painting, and more painting.  Besides some furnace room doors that still need staining & varnishing, all the pieces came together in late August and that project has largely been completed.

Just in time for the 2013 harvest season!  I actually got a jump on the season last week when I got notification that the pinot noir juice I had ordered from Westport Rivers Vineyard was going to be ready.  This vineyard is special in many ways, but not the least that it's located in Westport, MA.  Yes, high quality vinifera grapes can be grown in New England but only certain varieties and in certain locations.  The Russell family has located a unique property along the southwest coast of Cape Cod just 1 mile from the beach.  The vineyards border the Westport River as it empties into Buzzards Bay.  They've taken pains to only plant early maturing vinifera varietals like chardonnay, riesling, & pinot noir that are capable of ripening in our New England climate.  The vineyard is a beautiful piece of property and I feel lucky to source some of my starting materials from them.  The pinot noir has been happily fermenting away since I brought it home and is intending to form the base of our first rose wine.  Crisp, fruity, clean, & delicious on a summer day after it's released in the spring.

The excitement continues on Monday with the delivery of cabernet sauvignon & petite sirah!  I'm really looking forward to working with these grapes from the Suisin Valley in California that form the basis of our PS Project red blend again.  The 2012 PS Project is in the bottle and I must say that even I'm impressed with it.  Fruity with a tannic backbone that lingers on your tongue.  2012 was an excellent year, but what I've heard so far indicates 2013 will be even more spectacular.

What else is on tap?  Well, sit right back and I'll tell a tale, a tale of a budding winery...

Westport MA Chardonnay
CA Paso Robles Petite Verdot
CA Sonoma Valley Durell Vineyard Syrah
WAYakima Valley Viognier
WA Yakima Valley Merlot
WA Yakima Valley Cabernet Franc

and last but not least...

RI Merlot
RI Cabernet Franc

The later are from another special vineyard that I chanced upon.  Mums the word on more but trust me, finding high quality merlot & cabernet franc here in New England is quite the coup for Aaronap Cellars!

It's going to be a busy fall so stay tuned.  Find Aaronap Cellars on Facebook for last minute details as the season progresses!


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chilean Harvest 2013

Sadly it's been awhile since I've posted a new update.  I know several of you have expressed concern that the winery had been what next??  Well, the next step is to start making wine!  I pushed the contractors a bit to get the winery done in time for the Chilean harvest this spring.  You may be asking yourself..."Sacre bleau!  He buys grapes from so far away?  Say it cannot be so."

Well, it is so.  I will acknowledge that there is a lot of fluff and movement in the wine industry today to focus closely on making local wine and express that local terroir, otherwise no one can possibly take you seriously.

To that point of view, I say "Nuts!"

The whole concept behind Aaronap Cellars is that I strive to make the best wine possible for the best grapes I can get my grubby little hands on so that any bottle can stand on its own two feet against the rest of the world.  I want you to buy my wine because it's darn good...and it's made by this guy in Westford, MA.

So what's that got to do with Chile?  Well, Chile vineyards are perhaps the best place on the planet to source carmenere and malbec grapes.  Prior to the late 1800s, both of these varietals were once grown in the Bourdeaux region of France and used to produce the fine wines the region was known for.  But then a little root louse called phylloxera caught a ride on some grape vine roots from America to France and all of a sudden the famous vineyards of France began to die.  It took several decades, but finally the antidote (grafting vulnerable French vines onto immune American rootstock) was discovered and France began to replant her vineyards.  As you'd expect, the vineyards in Bourdeaux were replanted with the most commercially successful varietals like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, & cabernet franc.  Carmenere & malbec became essentially extinct in the region.  Malbec survived in France with plantings in the Languedoc area, but became a minor player.  Little did we know that the European colonization of South American in the 1700-1800s also included transplanting many varieties of grape vines.  Fast forward about 80 years and imagine the consternation when "merlot" vines in Chile & Argentina were genetically identified as actually being carmenere & malbec.  Turns out that a lot of carmenere & malbec had been transplanted in South America as "merlot".  In the end Chile has become the last great bastion of plantings of carmenere in particular, as well as malbec.

I am a history buff and I love the story of the miraculous survival of carmenere.  I'm also a sucker for the underdog so I love the idea of making wine from a little known grape that smuggled its way into Chile and has become their celebrity varietal.  Thanks to my grape broker, I have access to the only place that grows significant amounts of carmenere and malbec.  Finding those varietals in MA & CA is next to impossible, so I've chosen to tap the resources of South America.

And I'm darn proud of that!

This spring, I purchased a quarter ton of carmenere and 0.75 tons of malbec from the Curico & Colchagua Valleys of Chile.  They arrived in a big stack of crates in the back of my pickup.

The new Zambelli destemmer performed admirably in crushing the grapes and pumping the must into the winery.

 And then the yeast did their thing.  Pods of fermenting must spotted the winery amidst the other equipment.

A few weeks later and then it was pressing time!  The sequence is the fermented must mixture is transferred from the fermentation tub to the press where the wine drains away from grapeskins/seeds.  The liberated wine drains into the bucket where it is pumped into a waiting stainless steel tank to allow the large solids to gravity settle.  Check out the high tech stepladder serving as pump holder!

 Pressed wine draining from the press!  Very artsy.

 At this point, alcohol fermentation is over.  The next step is to allow a secondary fermentation to occur that will convert the malic acid in the wine to lactic acid--this helps smooth out the wine.  Then, the wine will be transferred to oak barrels for aging over 9-12 months.  The carmenere will be featured in our signature "Carm-ah" blend with syrah, while the malbec will be featured in another blend (more details to follow).

Hopefully this was a helpful insider's view of the winemaking at Aaronap Cellars.  These varietals have come a long way from France to Chile and then to MA where we craft them into premium wines.  The best of the best is often found around the world and not just in your backyard.  Look for these wines to be released in Fall 2014 or Spring 2015 so that you can taste the true carmenere terroir!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Finale...and a New Beginning!

A very good friend of mine (yeah, I'm looking at you Mr R) recently chastised me for being negligent in updating the blog.  Apparently he was having difficulty finding things to read at work...  OK, that was a low blow because the guy is completely correct.  I have been negligent in posting about the final wrap up of construction.  That's right, we're 99.9% complete!  The pictures below tell the tale.

 View of the main room from the southeast corner looking towards the bottle storage room.  Barrels will line the wall.

 The cleaning area--one of the nerve centers of the operation & home to more plumbing than you can shake a stick at.

View towards the back door from the barrel corner.

View towards the back door from the sink area.

Last but not least...the bottle storage room.  This will be used for equipment storage until next year when we start bottling wine.

So what have I been doing besides finishing painting, staining & varnishing the interior door, & moving equipment into the winery?  Getting ready to make wine!  The Board of Health approved our residential kitchen permit so it's time to start fermenting stuff.  Not wasting a moment, we've hit the ground running with some frozen juice and the South American grape harvest.  Some wineries will hide the fact that they purchase grapes from South America in the spring to boost wine inventory.  Aaronap Cellars will never hide that information but celebrate that we can source unique grapes from south of the Equator in the spring to bring you another option for interesting flavors & some grape varietals that are hard to source here in the USA.  Stay tuned for details...that's worthy of another blog post.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The end is near....

Gotcha!  No, this isn't a prophetic post on the end times.  I'll leave that up to what ever your personal belief system predicts.  However, construction at Aaronap Cellars is rapidly coming to a close!  The contractors installed the doors and trim earlier this week, including the massively heavy 2 hour fire door that the town required.  Have to say that I'm impressed that the door is weighted & hung to gently close on its own without being pushed.  The electricians came on Friday morning and completed the outlet, switches, lights, and fire/CO detector wiring.  Friday afternoon, the floor was sealed.  I selected a good old garage epoxy sealer with gravel grit on top to give some traction in case a little water or wine gets spilled.  The guys went to it with gusto and in fact, didn't give the electricians time to finish the last wiring of the internet/phone outlet!  There will have to be one last quick for the electricians next week to finish that.

Unfortunately, the floor is still curing so pictures will have to wait...until the plumbing is done and construction is finished!  We're anticipating the plumbers to arrive Monday or Tuesday to install the sinks.  A quick Board of Health in-construction inspection, and then it's up to me to move all the equipment back into the winery, hang the signage, fill the soap & towel dispensers, and we're ready for the final Board of Health inspection!

It's hard to believe, but I'm anticipating that we can start fermenting our first wines in early May.  Our unique dessert wine, Forest Gold, will be first up, followed by a Sparkling Cranberry.  Stay tuned for details!


Monday, April 8, 2013

Wall Paneling & Ceiling Paint as Construction Continues

Loyal readers will notice that I skipped a week or two of recapping the winery construction work.  Not that no progress was being made, but the focus of the basement project shifted briefly from the winery room to the rest of the basement as wallboard and plaster veneer work was being completed.  Once that was done, the guys could get started on installing the FRP wall panels in the winery.  We chose FRP panels to provide a durable, nonabsorbent, and washable surface to please the local Board of Health officials, but they do have the advantage of reducing the scope of the painting project!  The FRP panel installation was largely completed by last Friday.  Since the plaster ceiling had cured and the floor area was completely bare, I decided to leap in and paint the winery room ceiling this weekend.  This was a task that I haven't exactly been eagerly anticipating because it's been awhile since I've painted a ceiling and the last ceiling paint project left mental scars that still give me nightmares (trust me--a long story best left for recollections over several beers).  However, I was very pleased to find this situation was a complete charm.  I started on Saturday with a final sanding touch up and dust removal, taping off the new wall panels, and then priming the ceiling.  As in all of my home improvement projects, that took about twice as long as expected and left me very tired and muscle worn by early evening.  Staring up at a ceiling and pushing a paint roller around uses some interesting muscles that apparently don't get used very often in normal life.  But I must give credit to the plaster guys from Custom Contracting--they know how to properly plaster a ceiling and leave it ready for paint!

Sunday morning dawned, and after popping some ibuprofen, I headed back to the basement to start the ceiling paint.  Four hours later, my neck muscles were sore but the ceiling was completed.  And this morning, I'm pleased to share some pictures that show the dramatic change in the winery room.

We're getting really close to finishing the project as all that remains is floor sealing, installation of the 3-bay and handwash sinks and ejector sump pump, and finish electrical work.  I still need to paint the window trim, but that won't take that long (knock on wood).


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Day at the MA State House: Ag Day 2013

Today turned out to be a rare treat.  It was Ag Day 2013 at the Massachusetts State House and I decided to attend and support my fellow MA farm wineries in our quest for continued political recognition and support.  My lovely wife Shawna even volunteered to join me and lend her years of politicking to the cause as well.

We left early anticipating some ugly Boston traffic, but actually arrived a little early.  The scene was a little chaotic--as probably expected from trying to corral such a large and diverse group of agriculture-related associations and businesses.  We finally located the Mass Winery exhibit table and our fellow winery owners and established our plan of action.  Shawna and I took off to meet with our local state House/Senate representatives and (after getting a little lost in the rabbit warren that is the MA State House) ran into 2 very different receptions.  I have to give credit to Senator Eileen Donoghue and her office staff.  Not only had I received a prompt response from my email of last week asking for a brief appointment, but Deputy Chief of Staff Kirsten Centrella welcomed us with open arms by name and sat down for a brief discussion.  She's got my vote next election!  As for my local House representative, let's just say they weren't quite as cordial to meet a voter from their district.

The fun really began during the Grand Reception in the Great Hall.  Each ag association and business exhibitor had tables full of food, plants, flowers, fruit samples, etc and the attendees, legislators, and staff members descended on them like vultures!  By state law, we could not bring alcoholic beverages into the State House so we were forced to fall back on "pre-fermented" raw materials, i.e. Concord grape juice.  Brought a smile to many faces and provided the only beverage in the entire reception.  There were also an awful lot of underage FFA and 4H members attending so trying to check IDs would have been a nightmare.  Shawna and I spent the reception glad handing with state representatives and staff members, as well as other folks interested in wine.  Hopefully, we upped the attendance to our planned 2013 MA Wine Festivals!

The day culminated with a visit from Governor Deval Patrick.  Word quickly spread when he appeared at the reception and he slowly made his way down the line of tables.  His face really lit up when he came to the Mass Winery table and then fell when he realized the tasting cups were only grape juice.  We joked with him that we were playing by his rules and only he had the power to change them!  We had a robust and friendly conversation with him, got to shake his hand, and personally invited him to attend our 2013 MA Wine Festivals.  Hope to see you there Governor!

I'm sure that everyone's visit to their respective State House ends with shaking the Governor's hand....nah, didn't think so!  You'll understand why I got a little geeked to have the opportunity.  A very good day.