Last week the mornings were bright, and the vineyards and lake glittered with snow along the west side of Keuka Lake. Trimming stiff vines in single-digit temperatures, doesn’t evoke the same romantic image as handpicking juicy, ripe bunches of grapes under the golden light of harvest. However after spending some time with our vineyard manager, I found myself completely fascinated by the process of pruning the vines. Despite tending my own small garden and plants, and growing up in wine country, it still seems miraculous to learn how much life will sprout out of one tiny bud in less than 6 months. From each bud a cane will grown and support multiple clusters of grapes.
Don Riesenberger joined the Heron Hill team last summer as vineyard manager on Keuka Lake. He’s very at ease and confident in the vineyard explaining to me why it looks like he’s cutting back so much and how he’s keeping extra buds on the canes this year. From recognizing a strong spur at the base of the vine to removing just the right amount of new growth, it quickly becomes clear how critical this stage is to maximize the potential of the individual vine. We have control over pruning techniques; we don’t control Mother Nature.
“When you look at a vine, you consider what happened last year, what will be different this year, and plan for next year, ” demonstrated Don.
Don grew up in nearby Naples and has early memories of tying when he was just tall enough to reach the low growth in his father’s vineyards. For 28 years, Don worked as a warehouse manager for Constellation Brands in Canandaigua—and now he’s enjoying spending most of his days outside. Don and his wife live on a hillside between Naples & Canandaigua, and have one son currently in college. Heron Hill is very happy to have him around and welcomes his experience, humor, and professionalism.
Eric, Don, & Erin checking buds Don pruning young Riesling vines.
Heron Hill has approximately 12.5 acres planted in front of the Winery on the west side of Keuka Lake. The vineyards primarily consists of Riesling ranging from young vines just 1 year old to well established 10 year old vines. Don is also in regular contact with our crew at Ingle Vineyard located on the west side of Canandaigua Lake where some of the vines are over 40 years old. Across the Finger Lakes this winter the fluctuating temperatures, with “arctic blasts” below 0 degrees, have caused concern for vinifera vineyards of all ages. Don explained the different roles of the primary bud, secondary and tertiary bud. We have checked cane samples weekly, although we’re seeing healthy signs of green now, it’s still too early to tell how fruitful the vines will be this vintage.
I chatted with Don today on this grey, rainy Friday where we’re expecting the temperature to reach nearly 50 degree. This pop of warmth will prove perfect for starting the flow of maple sap, but it’s potentially dangerous for vulnerable fruit buds when next week’s forecast predicts frigid temperatures again.
“What’s you’re favorite season?” I asked Don. “I actually really enjoy tying in the Spring” Don replied. “There’s something about when everything is starting to bloom and working outside while the birds are singing…” Pruning will continue into March, then after the support posts are checked and wires are tightened, tying will begin. The more I learn about grape growing and wine making, the more I appreciate the process and respect the risk people take in this industry. There’s no question, everyone’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of Spring this Year!
The 2013 harvest is over, after we picked the Riesling Icewine on the third week of November at Ingle Vineyard on a cool site overlooking the west side of Canandaigua Lake. Yes, it got that cold before Thanksgiving! The 2013 whites are either done with the alcoholic fermentation or finishing it slowly. A cool fermentation for white wines helps preserve the aromas from the varietal and also from the fermentation itself. A cool temperature means a long and slow fermentation.
(Scenes from harvesting Riesling for icewine)
The reds need a higher temperature during the alcoholic fermentation to help the extraction of tannins from the skin and seeds. The alcoholic fermentation is therefore much quicker, a matter of days to a week. The rest of the time spent on the skin is called post-fermentation maceration. The red wines have been pressed off the skin and are now going through the secondary fermentation, or Malo-lactic fermentation: malo-lactic bacteria transform the sharp malic acid (found in apples) into the softer lactic acid (found in yogurt). This makes the red wines softer and rounder. Our white wines do not go through Malo-lactic fermentation in order to preserve their natural acidity.
For me, Christmas is a family holiday, in contrast with the New Year celebration which is more of a “friends get-together.” It has been a tradition for my wife and I to spend Christmas Eve with her cousins on Long Island for the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” You might have guessed it: they are on the Italian side of the Family. As the name suggests, all the dishes are seafood based: shrimp cocktail, baked clams, broiled lobster tails, clams in a white wine sauce over pasta…and lots of desserts!
(Heron Hill Vidal Blanc 2011: Gold medal Finger Lakes International Wine Comp.; 90 points Wine & Spirits)
Interestingly enough, we bring the wines: Heron Hill Muscat is a favorite, along with the Semi-Dry Riesling and Ingle Vineyard Riesling. For the red wine drinkers, Heron Hill Cabernet Franc is always a hit, and I might add our Blaufränkisch or Baco Noir Reserve this year along with Eclipse Red 2010. And for dessert, I better not forget Heron Hill Late Harvest! It is a very versatile wine and pairs with many different desserts, as long as the dessert is not overly sweet. An interesting dessert to pair the Heron Hill Late Harvest Vidal Blanc with is a Ricotta cheese filled crêpe flambée. I believe I have shared a flambée Shrimp recipe in the past: you are going to think I am a pyromaniac…well, it surely makes a good show!
Crêpes Flambées with Ricotta cheese filling
¾ cup flour
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp Vanilla extract
400g Ricotta cheese
4-5 Tbsp confectionated sugar
1 ½ tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup orange juice
¼ tsp Vanilla extract
1/3 cup of either whiskey, dark Rum, aged Brandy, Cointreau,
or Grand Marnier (for a “Crêpe Suzette” approach).
First, blend all the ingredients for the crêpe batter together, then store in the refrigerator for about three hours. This gives you plenty of time to make the filling, which should be made before cooking the crêpes. Just blend all the ingredients together. I chose Ricotta cheese for its creaminess and its lighter taste. To get closer to a Crêpe Suzette, you would replace the Ricotta cheese with half a stick of butter and use orange zest instead of lemon. I like the combination here because I do not want a dominant lemon or orange flavor, but a diversity of aromas. A good substitute for sugar would be honey, and it would actually work even better with the wine!
Using a flat bottom non-stick frying pan (the best is of course the “crêpe-pan), oil well the bottom of the pan. Once the pan is hot, pour a small ladle of batter and swirl the pan so the batter makes a thin and even layer on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 45 seconds to a min, then flip the crêpe and cook for another 45 seconds, until brown bubbles appear. Place the crêpe on a dish. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
Place about 1-2 Tbsp of the filling in the center of each crêpe. Fold it in half, then in half again to make it look like a wedge or a quarter of a circle.
Place the crêpes in a big heat resistant pan. In a small saucepan warm up the liquor of your choice, then pour over the crêpes in the heat resistant pan, and CAREFULLY light the alcohol with a long match.
Place in a dish, serve and enjoy with a glass of Heron Hill Late Harvest Vidal Blanc! Happy Holidays!
October is always a crazy busy month, except for last year. By the first week of October in 2012 we were done - finished - with the harvest. An early spring - dry, hot summer and smallish crop led to a two to three week early harvest. It was bizarre - but good. 2013 is almost the opposite. A late spring, cool damp summer and a large crop has made us two to three weeks behind schedule. Actually, mid-October, we've just started. We brought in 22 degrees Brix Pinot Noir early this week and are now almost done with the Chardonnay.
(Some of the Heron Hill Harvest Crew on the press pad; Zeb & Bernard with crushed Pinot Noir)
The damp summer led to many mildew problems. I have talked to growers who had to spray 15 to 20 times for assorted diseases. The average is 6 to 10 times so there was a lot of mildew pressure. Ingle Vineyard, under the supervision of Vineyard Manager Kyle Franzoni and assistant Zeb Archer, has managed to bring a large crop of ultra-ripe, super clean grapes to the press deck. The Heron Hill vineyard, managed by Don Riesenberger, is also looking awesome. Brix (sugar) levels are over 20 degrees and up to 22 degrees. This will bring bold, tasty wines with great depth and character.
Last weekend we shared the harvest duties with sweepstakes winner Jaime Murphy, and her husband James. Not only were they a delight to work with but they really pulled their weight in the vineyard, keeping up with the well-seasoned crew we have. It was a gorgeous day in the Finger Lakes and hand-picking beautiful Pinot Noir, enjoying a vineyard picnic of all organic, home-grown fruits and vegetables, followed by supervising the activities on the press deck at the winery made for a very memorable day for all. Thanks to everyone who helped put this great Heron Hill experience together: Elke, Erin, Kate, Bernard, and especially Sales Director Eric Frarey who came up with this great idea.
(Sweepstakes winners having lunch in the vineyard; Sweepstakes winners receive certificates from owner John Ingle and sales director Eric Frarey after a successful day.)
As we watch for the rest of the harvest to occur we are full of exuberance and pride as the fruits of our labor promise great things in the bottle!
(John Ingle with Sweepstakes winners at Ingle Vineyard)
The 2013 harvest is imminent. Some early varieties such as the seedless, are already ripe and others are progressing nicely with Brix (sugar) levels at 16-18 degrees: the goal is to get to 22 degrees, that would make well balanced wines. They say grapes ripen about 1 degree per week so the next four to six weeks are crucial.
Many of you already know how the weather in the Finger Lakes has been this summer—it’s been cool and wet. Lots of vine growth but constant mildew pressure. Last year, 2012, was a hot and dry season with Brix levels up to 25 degrees—good for rich, full bodied wines—what I call a “Pinot Noir Year.” In contrast, as in this season, cool damp weather is perfect weather for a “Riesling Year.” Crisp acidity, steely, mineral laden, food-friendly wines also including the rising star—unoaked Chardonnay.
So the stage is set, Mother Nature holds the cards, a couple of cards are “up,” but the remaining cards will tell the hand. The only different is we can’t fold, just come back next year and do it, again—it’s a vintage!
Heron Hill at Bristol has been buzzing with excitement for 2013. Our energetic staff remains the same from last year Joshua, Christopher, Chelsea, Debi, Stephanie and Cindy. We have added two new employees, as well, Suzi and Torin. Our customers are amazed at how beautiful our surroundings are and vow to come back again; and they are! With the close proximity to Rochester, it is an easy day trip to bring out-of-town guests or a leisurely drive from Syracuse or Buffalo. We are also beginning to notice many of our late afternoon customers are stopping before a concert at CMAC or dinner at the great restaurants residing in Canandaigua which is only 20 minutes away.
Our newest addition, Fridays after 5 with Wood Fired Pizza, 5:00 pm-9:00 pm, has been a huge success right from the start. For the month of July and August on the 2nd and 4th Fridays, the sounds of live music and the smell of wood-fired pizza fills the air; neighbors and new friends alike share tables for an evening of fun. We've already hosted two of these food & wine events, many people have attended both, and are looking forward to the next. Each week we offer a different genre of music. Our customers have been excited and each band brings its own set of followers which exposes Heron Hill at Bristol to a new set of fans. The setting creates a beautiful family event at a vineyard with music, people dancing, kids racing around….it’s just a great evening! There are only 3 weeks left (August 9, August 23 and August 30th), so try to make it to Heron Hill at Bristol for an evening of fun.
On September 21st, our Third Annual Ingle Vineyard Harvest Festival (12:00–6:00 pm) will be held at our tasting room. Music by DANG!, a country-rock band, wood-fired pizza, cider pressing, fresh popped popcorn, wine, beer and soda will be served. This is a family event as well. There is a baby pumpkin hunt, ring tosses and coloring station for the kids. Bring your lawn chairs and/or blankets, and spend a day at Heron Hill at Bristol.
We are now serving glasses of wine to enjoy outside overlooking the vineyard. If you haven’t been in Heron Hill at Bristol on Ingle Vineyard, you are in for a wonderful surprise. We look forward to seeing you.
Upcoming music schedule:
Aug. 9 - Trinidad Band
Aug. 23 - Shared Genes
Aug. 30 - The Bristol Brothers
First, I have to say that it was a pleasure to be able to spend some time with my family and friends back home, in Southern France. The weather was fairly warm and sunny for the most part, which allowed my wife and I to drive in the country side, visiting a couple wineries. But I have to say that most of our time was spent eating and drinking with my family and close friends.
Back at Heron Hill, we are pretty much done pruning, apart from our block of Muscat Ottonel. The main job right now is tying the Riesling vines: on the producing blocks, the shoot we selected during pruning as our fruit bearers have to be tied on the fruit wires; on the plantings, the shoots selected to become the trunks of the mature vine have to be tied to the pencil rods to help them grow vertically.
For the Muscat Ottonel, we have decided to wait until late April to prune it. It is very sensitive to spring frost, and the location where these vines are planted can get very cold in the spring nights. Pruning later will delay bud-break, when the buds of the shoots we retained to bare fruit will come out of dormancy and open up. Throughout the growing season, the buds will become the new shoots, with leaves and grape clusters. That is if they survive the frost bites of these freezing spring nights! Last year in New-York State, bud-break was early due to a soft winter and early warm weather. But from late April to mid-May, the temperatures dropped during the night, as far as the mid twenties, at least in the Finger Lakes! The buds that were out of their winter coat got toasted by the frost. Our Muscat was particularly affected.
In the cellar, we have been busy putting the 2012 reds in barrels, while bottling e few older reds: Eclipse red 2010, Ingle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010… And we just bottled a Riesling Late Harvest, “Bunch Select” 2010. For this wine, the concentration was not obtained by picking the grapes frozen, like an Ice Wine, or by having the grapes hang long enough so some water from the berries would evaporate, like a traditional Late Harvest, but with the help of a friendly fungus: Botrytis Cinerea. The fungus grows on the berry and absorbs all the water it needs, along with a few nutrients of course. This fungus needs particular weather conditions to grow properly without ruining the fruit. It needs fog in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon, and the berries have to be whole, undamaged by birds, deer or bruised by vineyard equipment. The berries whose the skin has been ripped and the juice exposed will turn into grey rot, giving and off flavor to the wine. In 2010 we were blessed by finding Botrytis Cinerea growing homogenously on a Riesling block, but growing in “a nice way”, the “Noble rot” way. The grapes had to be picked berry by berry and in three successive passes until the weather got too cold for the fungus to continue its “magic”. The result is a wonderfully balanced wine with a very complex nose. When you taste it, whatever scent you think it has, you cannot be wrong, because it’s in there!
At this time of the year, we are busy pruning in the vineyard. Pruning is a fundamental stage to the rest of the growing season: it allows us to control the crop we will have at harvest. Each bud we keep will develop and become a fruit baring shoot. The more we leave on the vine, the more grapes we will have at harvest. Consider the energy one vine puts into producing fruit; too many grapes tend to dilute quality and drain the vine from its energy and reserves. On the other hand, we still have to be careful to leave enough buds to balance the vine’s natural vigor and have some extra buds knowing some may never develop due to winter damage, spring frost or even later season threats like deer.
There’s always something interesting developing in the cellar. Currently, most of the 2012 reds are now in barrels, as we pumped older reds from barrels to be filtered and bottled. We just bottled Game Bird Red and 2010 Eclipse Red. Next week, we will bottle 2010 Ingle Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2011 Ingle Vineyard Chardonnay. The 2012 whites are being cold and protein stabilized, we plan to bottle these sometime in June. We also have some specially selected Reserve wines for which I’m particularly excited about this spring: 2011 Baco Noir, 2011 Blaufränkisch, 2012 Pinot Gris and 2012 Gewurztraminer. Yes, Baco Noir is almost there, as many customers have been asking for it for a while.
The 2012 vintage will be Heron Hill’s first Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer ever! We are very excited about these two wines and plan to release around 200 cases each. Pinot Gris, also known Pinot Grigio, can be a very shy wine. I have found our 2012 Reserve Pinot Gris to be very different than any Pinot Grigio I have encountered. Our Pinot Gris is very expressive on the nose and complex with tropical fruit and cherry blossom notes.
Many people have asked for a Gewurztraminer since I started at Heron Hill in 2009. We will release the wine in just a couple months! For me, the nose is lychee, characteristic of the varietal, but it also has some floral notes, making the bouquet very elegant.
On a personal note, I am looking forward to visiting my friends and family in southern France at the end of March. So much for trying to lose some weight! When I visit, each meal is a feast, easy on the greens but heavy on the fat and tasty meats and cheeses. It feels really good to go back to where I grew up…my grandparents’ villages, and my grandfather’s vineyards where I used to work with my father. Although so much as changed or looks very different, I still love to return to these locations where I savor the memories.
With Mother Nature unleashing winter storm “Nemo” on a major part of the Northeast,
we here at Heron Hill Winery and the rest of the wineries on the Keuka Lake Wine Trail opened
our doors to many visitors who were not scared to come out and enjoy a wonderful Finger Lakes event called the Cheese and Wine Lovers Weekend. At Heron Hill, we invited First Light Creamery to
come spend the weekend with us, sampling and selling their cheeses. The cheese maker, Trystan
and his fiancée Emily were happy to get away from the goat farm for a weekend bringing us 25
pounds of their Cream Roasted Garlic and Pepper Chèvre cheese. We used it to bake into
our Chèvre Puff Napoleons over Arugula Salad (recipe available here) topped with Roasted Garlic Red Wine Balsamic Dressing from a local producer, Chef Lerman.
We received rave reviews from all our customers giving lots of great praise and thanks
for using so many local producers. We really pride ourselves on trying to acquire as many
products produced in the Finger Lakes as possible. We are hoping to arrange with First Light Creamery to carry their cheeses in our Blue Heron Café for the 2013 season. The full lines of products that we carry from Chef Lerman have always been hot sellers in the food section of the gift shop.
After such a successful for all the Keuka Lake wineries, I am already looking forward to our next wine trail event, “Viva Italia!” on April 6th & 7th. Each of the 7 participating Keuka Lake wineries chooses a region of Italy with rich flavors enhanced by superb, food-friendly wines produced from each of our vineyards. I just got a preview of the recipe from our Café Director, Mike Oliver for the event and am very excited that we are going to be serving Roasted Eggplant Cannelloni Neapolitan a specialty from the town of Naples located in the Italian region of Campania.
This event always brings back great memories from when I spent a semester in Florence,
Italy. What a great country, so hospitable and the food was AMAZING! My house mother,
Roberta, was always making traditional recipes. I was very glad that I walked 4-5 miles a day to
work off all the calories from the breakfasts and generous dinners that she created each day.
I hope to see some familiar faces and make some new friends at our Keuka Lake Wine Trail events this year. These food & wine events are so much fun and you get to be greeted each and every time by my smiling face! Salute to an incredible 2013 season!
The fermentations of the 2012 wines can dwell into December for some batches of Riesling and Late harvests. For the white varietals, it is not a bad thing to have a slow fermentation: it gives the wine more complexity and preserves the volatile aromas. As long as the sugar content is going down, I am not very worried. Some winemakers have their wines ferment until late spring.
The white wines which have completed the alcoholic fermentation are then racked off the lees a couple of times before being cold and protein stabilized. By chilling the wines at around 28 degrees F, tartaric acid and potassium ions naturally contained in grape juice react together and form tartrates, the little crystals you might have seen in a white or rosé wine that was thrown in the freezer for a quick chill, or the cork of a bottle of red wine. Tartrates are not armful; they just look weird in a clear white wine and feel like sand in your mouth. The tartrates settle to the bottom of the tank and are removed from the wine. Heat or protein stability is obtained by getting rid of the proteins contained in the wine by adding bentonite, a sort of clay. The proteins weighed down by the bentonite settle to the bottom of the tank and are removed from the wine. After a couple of filtrations, the heat and cold stable wine is ready to be bottled during the summer.
The red wines don’t have to go through heat and cold stabilization, although some winemakers may choose to do so. Over the winter, the reds go through a secondary fermentation, called Malo-lactic fermentation. Malo-lactic bacteria eat malic acid, naturally contained in grape juice, and produce lactic acid, which is a softer acid than malic acid. This secondary fermentation makes the wine more stable against spoilage and makes the wine softer. We do not have our white wines go through Malo-lactic fermentation in order to preserve the natural crisp acidity of the Rieslings and chardonnays and other white wines. It’s all about balance!
In the vineyard, we are plowing to cover the base of the trunks of the vines to protect them from the harsh winter. We are fixing wires, posts and such before the soil freezes. Pruning starts with the New Year and lasts throughout March.
For the Holidays, my wife and I return to Long Island where her relatives reside. We traditionally celebrate with the Italian “Feast of the seven Fishes.” You might have guessed it: it’s all seafood! I usually bring the wines, of course: Heron Hill Muscat, Dry and Semi-Dry Riesling, Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc and Eclipse Red for the red wine drinkers, and I better not forget my mother in law’s favorite: Late Harvest Vidal Blanc. It is the occasion for us to see all our cousins, at least once a year, catch up, and have a great time, playing pool and poker. These guys can be tough! Happy Holidays, and drink responsibly.
There is a standing joke in the wine business that in Bordeaux, France, every vintage is the best ever and thus justifying raising the price. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is not the case in the Finger Lakes of New York. Every year there seems to be some glitch that throws a wrench in to the works of what would be the best vintage ever. We’ve seen extensive winter bud kill from -20 degree temperatures; we’ve seen Spring frosts into the low twenties in May; we’ve seen hurricanes that wash out the harvest and turn a seemingly great harvest into a good harvest. There are so many things that can go awry. Wine growers must be super-resilient just to survive, not to mention excel.
2012 appeared to be another one of those years as we experienced devastating late spring frosts state-wide in early May, reducing potential crop loads by up to 25%. These difficulties were followed by localized hailstorms that actually wiped out some vineyardists’ crops. Surviving these events, we endured a summer long drought that further stressed the vines, and the farmers. As harvest approached, timely rainfall arrived and the brix (sugar) levels soared. Usually we are delighted to get 21° or 22° brix but this year brought up to 25° brix levels across the board. The rains held off and super-ripe, clean fruit arrived for crushing up to three weeks early. It was a very fast harvest with everything ready to come in at the same time. The production team scrambled and as the fermentations are now over we see – in my opinion after 40 years as a grape grower – the best year ever! Time will tell – next year we’ll know the results. Stay tuned…
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