Heron HillBlog

Meet our bloggers and find out what's going on at Heron Hill Winery and our other two tasting rooms on Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes! Staff members are writing about the vineyards, what's happening in the cellar, fun events, wine pairings, new releases and more.

Bernard Cannac
 
January 4, 2011 | Bernard Cannac

What wines at Heron Hill Winery are gluten free?

First of all, I would like to cease this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year 2011! May this New Year be full of health and happiness!

After spending Christmas down on Long Island, under over a foot of snow, I got to spend the New Year Celebration with a few friends in a barn surrounded by vineyards just a slingshot away from Keuka Lake. Deep fried Turkey and Mulled wine paired very well together…

Now, the vines are dormant, and Zac and Ethan are running wires for the new planting we did last spring. They also managed to do some cleaning and burning some piles of brush: pretty high flames! It is supposed to be a cold winter, so we will wait until February to get started on the pruning, to be done by early April, before bud break.

In the cellar, we are monitoring a couple of fermentations about to end. I personally like slow fermentations on white wines to preserve the fruity aromas that developed during the fermentation. If the temperature rises too much, these aromas tend to dissipate. On the contrary, the red wines need higher temperature during fermentation in order to extract the tannins trapped in the skin and seeds. I like to ferment the white wines at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the reds can reach temperatures of over 90 degrees at the peak of the fermentation. Right now, the reds have all completed the primary fermentation (or alcoholic fermentation) and are now undergoing the secondary fermentation, also called Malo-Lactic Fermentation (MLF), which is the transformation of Malic Acid, naturally found in grapes and apples, into Lactic Acid, which is a softer acid. The MLF helps the mouth feel tremendously on the red wines. For the white wines, this process is not a necessity. Most winemakers prefer to keep the natural acidity in the white wines to preserve their freshness. At Heron Hill Winery, all the reds undergo MLF, but none of the whites do.

We recently received a question about gluten in wine. From the top of my head I couldn’t think of any additive used in winemaking that could contain gluten. Gluten is a big “storage molecule” (like starch) found mainly in wheat and wheat products, like pasta and bread.

At Heron Hill Winery, we only use a few additives, preferring to assist Nature instead of manipulating the wines too much. I checked the composition of the yeast nutrients we use to help the yeast during the fermentation, and there is no gluten in it, which makes sense because as I said gluten, like starch, is a big molecule that needs to be broken down into smaller pieces in order to be ingested by yeasts. Yeast nutrients contain small proteins and vitamins so the yeast can use the nutrients quickly and efficiently.

Close to bottling, we use some fining agent to clarify and stabilize the white wines. Again, there is no gluten in it. Furthermore, the fining agent is a big molecule (clay and/or protein), which reacts to the proteins in suspension in the wine, and once attached to each other and they precipitate to the bottom of the tank. Later, the wine is racked and filtered so these agglomerates are taken out of the wine.

So, to my knowledge, there is no gluten in our wines at Heron Hill Winery. Hope this answers our reader’s question!

Cheers!
 

Time Posted: Jan 4, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Bernard Cannac
 
October 7, 2010 | Bernard Cannac

Winemaker's harvest update

By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker

Harvest started much earlier than last year. We had more heat and more sun in 2010 than we did in 2009, which explains why the grapes got ripe earlier. We started on September 3rd with some Seyval Blanc for the Game Bird line. It was followed by some Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris dedicated to the Eclipse White blend. Then Pinot and Chardonnay came in at the same time; these two varietals tend to get ready to pick close to each other, with Pinot Noir being slightly earlier than the Chardonnay, but not this year. The Muscat has been picked at around that time too.

We actually just released the 2009 Heron Hill Muscat this week, and it is selling very quickly, people are enjoying it. We only produced 300 cases and I have the feeling they will go fast.

This week we picked most of the Riesling, trying to dodge the rain as well as we could. The decision to pick a block before another is based on the maturity level of the fruit, the sugar content and the acidity, but also the flavor profile, which we call aromatic maturity, which is for me the most important. Another factor is the weather and the sanitary condition of the block. And then we have to add the logistic factor. All this makes harvest very exciting.

Next, will be the rest of Ingle Vineyard Riesling being picked today. We will also see some Cabernet Franc be harvested next week. The picking frenzy will slow down with some Cabernet Sauvignon the following week and then we will see what the weather does and what we can hope for our dessert wines. It is always nice to have a plan or a schedule, but ultimately the weather will dictate the speed of harvest.

Once all the grapes have been picked, it might look quieter outside, but the party continues in the cellar for the fermentations, which demand constant attention and care. Even if harvest is early this year, don’t worry, we still will be busy until the Holidays!
 

Bernard Cannac
 
June 8, 2010 | Bernard Cannac

Planting the new vineyard in front of the winery

By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker

This spring has been quite interesting so far: the latest spring frost was in mid-May, and from there the weather has been quite hot and humid.

Two weeks ago, we planted over seven acres of vines. The new planting took place mainly in front of the winery. We planted about five acres of Riesling including different clones. The diversity of the clones will bring more complexity to the wines in the future. We also planted about one acre of Muscat and one acre of Vidal Blanc, hopefully to make Icewines and Late Harvests, depending on the weather conditions.

Last fall we took some soil samples to get a soil analysis and added some lime, which was worked into the soil. In the spring, we added some natural fertilizers, which was also worked into the soil. It created a flat and smooth layer of soil for the laser planter.

 

We had a team of professionals come with a laser planter to make sure that the rows were at the right spacing and that the vines were planted evenly. This equipment belongs to the Hosmer Family and their partner. On the video, you can see how the planter operates. The team first makes a survey of the field, then puts markers on the field. It looks like lines of little flags with different colors. A laser beam then goes between two tripods and the photocell on the planter runs along the beam. The tractor driver has to keep the planter in line the whole time, looking at three lights: green means right in line, orange means slightly off line but acceptable and red means that the planter lost the beam. The team makes it look easy, but it takes a lot of skills to keep the ensemble in perfect alignment with an invisible laser beam. As you can see on the video, two persons feed the machine with plants, and Zac, our Vineyard Manager was walking behind the procession to make sure no vine was missing. We took turns for three days, walking in a dust cloud under the blazing sun. I have the sunburn to remind me about that weekend. It was Memorial Day weekend, and it was memorable.

For us, it has been a lot of work to get the soil ready for the planting, and now there will be a lot of work ahead of us: each vine has to have a pencil rod, so the young shoots can be lifted off the ground, we have to put the posts in the ground, then run at least one wire this season to clip the pencil rods on this lower wire.

So far the weather has been giving us enough rain, but we might have to water the plants individually in the next few days, if it doesn’t rain.

But it is a very exciting time for us, because all this work is for the foundation of a vineyard that will be there for a few decades. Once a vineyard is planted, it is very hard to change its characteristics. So we hope we did the right things and made the right decisions, because this vineyard is here to stay. It is up to us now to take good care of it, so we can get the best grapes it can produce, so we can make the best wines, for the delight of all of us.

Even though we have been busy at the vineyard, Brian has managed to get most of the wines ready for bottling. We actually bottled the 2007 Heron Hill Cabernet Franc last week. The wine is recovering from the bottling (bottle shock). It should be released in a couple of weeks. It is a solid wine, with a lot of fresh berry on the nose. It has a big body and will age beautifully. We also blended a Reserve Cabernet Franc, which will be bottled sometime in the summer.

In spring and summer, we always have something to do, inside or outside! Santé!

Bernard Cannac
 
April 14, 2010 | Bernard Cannac

What wines at Heron Hill Winery are vegan?

Upon my previous blog about stabilizing the wines prior to bottling, another aspect of preparing a wine for bottling has emerged: what about fining agents used in wine? The fining agents dictate if a wine can be considered vegan or not. Fining agents are used for clarification and stabilization of the wine, but also to smooth out the mouthfeel if necessary, or fix the color on a prematurely oxidized wine. So, technically, bentonite is a fining agent. Remember, we use bentonite to react with proteins and make the wine “heat stable”. Bentonite is a clay of volcanic origin, and is discarded after it settles down to the bottom of the tank.

Tannins are part of a class of compounds called polyphenols. Depending on the growing conditions of a particular vintage, the phenols can vary in quantity and variety. For example, an unripe grape will have very harsh and aggressive tannins which will not age well, or grapes affected by mildew or sour rot will have undesirable compounds in the juice. The remedy is fining. Some tannins also come from the aging in a oak barrel. Sometimes these tannins can be too harsh and fining agents are used to eliminate the undesirable tannins, making the wine taste smoother and less aggressive on the palate.

Fining agents can have different origins: bentonite is a volcanic clay, casein comes from milk, gelatin from animal’s bones or sturgeon’s bladder, albumin from eggs (in the past some fining products were made out of albumin extracted from animal’s blood, but it has been outlawed). Others are synthetic, like PVPP (or PolyVinylPolyPyrolidone. I know it makes me look smart when I drop this word, but since I don’t use this compound, I don’t have many occasions to mention it!).

My understanding is that the use of fining agent of animal origin has made some people feeling uneasy. I’m a meat eater myself, but know that the use of these agents in wine would render it non-vegan. All of the white wines at Heron Hill Winery are treated with bentonite, the volcanic clay. The red wines don’t need to be treated since the barrel aging tends to stabilize them. Pinot Gris is a varietal used in the Eclipse White blend. The Pinot Gris portion is actually treated before the fermentation even starts with a mix of bentonite and casein, to prevent any “pinking” from this varietal. Pinot Blanc is white, Pinot Noir is red, and Pinot Gris (“grey” in French) is in between. Sometimes the fresh juice from Pinot Gris can have a pinkish hue, which can be a problem if it has to be part of a white wine blend. The other wines we treat with this mix are all the Late Harvest and Icewines because they are made from grapes that can be botrytised (“Noble Rot”).

I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I must point out that all these compounds end up at the bottom of the tank after they reacted with the wine. They form big molecules that become too heavy to stay in suspension and drop down. That is why casein, gelatin, and albumin based fining agents are always used in conjunction with bentonite. Bentonite (reacts with proteins) will take care of any excess of protein based fining agent by attaching itself to it and dropping to the bottom of the tank.

So, to clarify for our vegan friends, all of our wines are vegan except for the Eclipse White, Icewine and Late Harvests. If you have any questions, just comment below and I’ll be sure to follow up!

Time Posted: Apr 14, 2010 at 11:11 AM
Bernard Cannac
 
February 10, 2010 | Bernard Cannac

What happens after fermentation

By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker

After all the excitement of harvest and the fermentations, I enjoy the quiet months of winter. By now, the 2009 reds are aging in barrels and the older vintages are maturing. The 2009 whites have to be prepared before being bottled in the spring and summer.




Like Brian explained in his January 15th blog, the white wines have to be treated with bentonite in order to be protein stable or heat stable. After the fermentation, the wine contains a lot of proteins, some of them coming from the yeasts’ cells. But too many proteins would lead the wine to turn cloudy if it was to be exposed to some heat. If you leave a bottle of white wine, or Rosé or Blush sitting in a car for hours in the summertime, the wine might turn cloudy or hazy. Under heat, proteins tend to form a haze. To prevent this to happen, bentonite is added to the wine. It will attach itself to the proteins in suspension in the wine. The result is a heavy molecule, which will drop down to the bottom of the tank due to its weight. The wines are racked after about one to two weeks after the bentonite addition in order to give it enough time to settle down to the bottom of the tank. Then, we just have to pump the clear wine and discard the sediments left at the bottom of the tank. A gross filtration will take care of any molecules that still might be in suspension.

The other stabilization we have to look after is called cold stability. If you have stored a white, Rosé or Blush wine in the refrigerator to chill it, you might notice that some white or sometimes pink crystals have formed in the bottom of the bottle. No, it is not sugar or sand, and it is not dangerous. If you were to drink some with your wine, the only inconvenience would be that it has a grainy texture and it would feel weird in your palate. One of the most important acids present in grape juice is tartaric acid. Grape juice also naturally contains potassium. When these two compounds react together, they form a crystal called potassium tartrate. This reaction happens faster at colder temperatures. That is why a wine that has not been properly stabilized will produce these crystals when being refrigerated. To avoid this happening in the bottle, we actually make the reaction happen in the tank. There are two ways to induce this: we can chill the tank down to about 28 degrees Fahrenheight and wait for about three weeks or we can add some cream of tartar to the chilled wine. We choose the latter because the stabilization happens faster, in a matter of days instead of weeks. The cream of tartar method is also called “seeding” because the small crystals of cream of tartar induce the formation of tartrates around each “seed” of tartar. When the crystal becomes heavy enough, it drops down to the bottom of the tank. Again, we rack and filter the clear wine and discard the sediments. The red wines get stable after their aging in the barrels, and they should not be chilled, so we do not have to heat and cold stabilize them. Moreover, consumers are more forgiving when they notice sediments in a bottle of red wine.

At this time of the year, we also are busy pruning the vineyard and doing some labeling before getting into bottling some 2007 and 2008 reds and the 2009 whites. I hope it wasn’t too technical and that it answered a couple of questions you might have had. Cheers!
 

Bernard Cannac
 
December 9, 2009 | Bernard Cannac

Starting out at Heron Hill as the new Winemaker

By Bernard Cannac, Winemaker

The 2009 harvest has been “interesting” for me, to say the least. I started it on Long Island, but continued and finished it in the Finger Lakes. It is easier to start a new job at a winery at a more quiet time, but I was up for the challenge.

The 2009 vintage has been full of challenges on its own: the weather hasn’t been cooperating all season long, too much rain in the spring, not enough heat and sun in the summer, an early frost... But nature doing things well, the fact of having rain during flowering induced a smaller than expected crop, which in turn was able to reach ripeness precisely because it was a small crop given the circumstances.

So all in all, I am very happy with the quality of the 2009 wines at Heron Hill Winery. The fact that it was a smaller harvest made it even easier for me to adjust to my new environment, and all my co-workers made it even easier. A big thank you to all the employees at Heron Hill, from production to retail and office, for welcoming me into the clan. I also feel honored by the trust owner John Ingle has put in me. We tasted the 2009 wines last week, and John was pleased by the results: it is always gratifying for me to see people enjoy the wines we have crafted in the cellar.

Now that the last whites are gently finishing fermenting, and the reds are waiting to get into barrels, I can take some time to discover the area. I have to say, my wife and I love Hammondsport. The village is only a couple of miles from the winery. We love to walk around the square and do some shopping, or just sit on a bench and enjoy the ambiance. It is an ideal place for a getaway weekend, and I am fortunate that it is where I live now, just a few steps away from Keuka Lake. What can I say? I love it here and I love the snow! Some of my co-workers think I am nuts…
 

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