Page Archive for August, 2010

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Every vintage and every wine has a story.  Some are thrillers, some are tragedies, some are uplifting romantic dramas and some, like the story of “Howie’s Own” 2008 Vidal, are dark comedies.

Tonight I cracked a bottle of this ’08 Vidal (bottled elegantly in a recycled Creekside Cabernet bottle) and marveled at the irony of how this wine that I cared about the least, neglected the most, and don’t sell to the public, turned out to be so damn good.

It’s an understatement to say that I wanted no part of making this wine in the late fall of 2008.  Those unfortunate enough to be around me at that time would no doubt be able to describe the kind of mood I was in.  Frazzled and crabby only begins to describe my state of being.  Having just completed our first full-scale “Five Rows” vintage, in facilities that rivaled only the most modest of U-Brew joints, I’d actually spent the majority of my time scouting vineyards for other wineries to make ends meet.  I was officially burnt out.

With evey sip of Vidal the stroy gets clearer.

My father, and I give him credit for mustering up the courage to do this, meekly suggested that we make a small tank of Vidal from the little bit of leftover fruit that falls onto the ground after mechanical harvesting, just for the fun of it. The fun of it?  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”  I thought or perhaps yelled aloud along with some interesting adverbs.   I’d been slugging away for three months straight and making Vidal for fun was not high on my To Do list.  I didn’t have the tank space, the yeast or the patience for this venture and made my feelings perfectly clear to a bewildered Howie.

“No problem.” he calmly stated, “I’ll make it myself.”  Now this was funny.  He didn’t have the foggiest notion about the practice of whole bunch pressing, the use of pectic enzymes, the protective benefits of potassium metabisulphate or how to properly monitor a fermentation.  “Good luck with that!” I rudely exclaimed.

I arrived early the next morning to see him diligently stooping to pick up the fallen bunches of Vidal.  I went on to tend to my other wines and after a while he pulled up to the crush pad with his wagon load of roadkill.  Then, in a fateful moment of weakness, I decided to can the attitude and help my old man press some grapes.  I suggested we press them “whole bunch” in an effort to be gentler on fruit.   I’d done this before with Chardonnay in Nova Scotia and really felt that the end product was more complex.  It also meant skipping the destemmer-crusher, which I didn’t feel like cleaning anyway.

We loaded the press quickly, I was probably still giving him the bum’s rush, and soon the sweet free-run juice began to flow.  Normally, pressing is done slowly with gradual increases of pressure and a periodic break-up of the press cake.  Sadly, this was not our protocol.  I cranked the pressure input valve, quickly achieving one bar of pressure when, mysteriously, the free-run juice stopped flowing.   Judging by the high-pitched squeal emanating from behind the wooden slats, I guessed we had an air pocket somewhere within our small basket press.  Stupidly, instead of dismantling the press and breaking up the cake, I increased the pressure and leaned in for a closer look.  All of a sudden, in one almighty instant, a tsunami of angry Vidal riding two bars of pressure streamed violently between a crack in the press screen, directly into my eyes and clear onto the roof of our barn!

Now if I say that I hit the ground and rolled around like I thought I was blind for life…it wouldn’t be a lie.  I tend to be a bit of a drama queen at times, but I swear that this situation warranted my blasphemous screams.  When I think back now, I truly believe that I’m lucky I wasn’t seriously injured.  A seed or stem hitting an eye at that velocity could have done some serious damage, but the juice just stung.   When I regained my vision enough to see blurry images, I quickly felt around and opened the pressure release valve to stop the geyser.

There are still a few Vidal skins adorning our barn roof to this day.  When my dad and I recovered from the shock of the situation, we had a good and much needed laugh.  I think we agreed not to tell my mother how bad it really was, but she will know now.  Sharing that experience was priceless.  I will never forget the look on his face when my vision finally returned.  It was a weird amalgam of shock and stifled laughter that he’d be hard pressed to ever duplicate.  Winemaking has since seemed less complicated and my attitude at vintage time has lightened tremendously.  Taking time to enjoy the experience is my new motto.

In the end, we were able to scrape together some yeast and cold-fermented the Vidal in a small stainless steel tank.  Last summer we bottled (more or less siphoned) 23 cases of Vidal, unfiltered, into sterilized, recycled bottles.  We’ve been enjoying it ever since.  The aromatics and presence of this wine are captivating.  Our supplies are getting low, however, so maybe we’ll make some again this year…just for fun.

Friday, August 13th, 2010

When the back aches from successive days of thinning Pinot Gris that is trellised annoyingly too low (remind me to raise that damn bottom wire next year) its especially nice to retire to the winery for a pleasant afternoon tasting with someone who has recently “discovered” our wines.  This has happened quite a bit lately, which signals to me that our wines are finding their way to the right people despite our lack of promotion.

My mother has shouldered the load for the majority for these pop-in tastings which she quite enjoys.  Despite her claims of nervousness, I think she has really found her niche.  She is passionate about our vineyards and loves to talk wine, especially Pinot!

We both feel very lucky when we receive firsthand positive feedback from our guests.  It’s by far the most rewarding part of what we do.  I’m still humbled and tremendously grateful every time people decide to purchase our wines.

Good reviews from a wine writer are nice too.  Read what Michael Pinkus of Ontario Wine Review recently wrote about our 2007 reds here.

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

That faint thud you just heard was my jaw hitting the terroir when I returned home from a quick vacation to find colour, yes colour, in my Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.  It seems eerily too early.  The race is on, it’s veraison.

veraison in Pinot

Veraison is the physiological stage of grape development where the hard, green berries finally soften and start to accumulate sugars and gradually turn colour.  That first flash of colour is always a “noose tightener” of sorts, in that so many jobs need to be squeezed in before the imminent harvest.  In early years such as this one, we are already fighting to keep the clusters exposed and canopy trimmed, but now it is even more important.  Recent studies out of Cornell University have shown that longer fruit exposure to sun can decrease methoxypyrazine levels (green, vegetal characters) in late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Slowly they turn...

Coloured berries also attract hungry birds, so our protective netting needs to be put up as soon as the hedging, leaf removal and cluster thinning is complete.  I honestly can’t decide if I’m excited or horrified at the prospect of working every day for the next three months.  I reassure myself that we go through the same song and dance every year, but that doesn’t seem to quell my uneasiness.  Amid the vineyard duties, we have to squeeze in a bottling run and get all tanks and crush equipment ready for the first fruit of the season.

Just as my anxiety peaks, the faint light at the end of the tunnel begins to emerge.  “Push on lad!”, I tell myself.  Pluck a few more leaves, thin a few more bunches, finish one more row.  Visions of brilliant autumn colours and cozy fall clothes begin to warm my thoughts.  The thrill and challenge of ripening Shiraz emboldens me.  I can taste that luscious free run juice now!

Bring on veraison!