As the bountiful harvest from the 2013 vintage rest in the cellar, we begin to prepare with anticipation for what 2014 will offer us. In this viticultural environment, the grape variability from year to year is truly dependent on what mother nature provides. A warmer season may benefit many of the reds of the region, whereas a cooler one may express a snappy finish on the Rieslings from the Finger Lakes. While the next nine months will be fast and furious keeping up with the pace of the season, this time of year offers us a little break from the chaos and a time to catch up.
Most people stopping into the tasting room during the season ask what we do in the winter - assuming it must be a time when we head down to key west for three months (I wish I had with this winter). While operationally, things are a little slower and more quiet, there are still a number of things to stay on top of. Here are a few:
Wrapping up Fermentations
The Rieslings continued to bubble into the frigid months of December and January, before it was time to stop the fermentations. Because of the duration of the fermentation (i.e. slower activity), we don't need to be analyzing them as often as we do for the Pinot. Oh, and the tropical aromatic esters that they are showcasing as they progress through their fermentations are just so sublime. It is really an enjoyable time to be in the cellar.
Tasting Room Upgrade
With the lack of traffic in the tasting room, it allows us to work on those projects that we've been waiting on the past 12 months. One of those annual tasks is refinishing the tasting room bar. The black walnut bartop sees a number of hands, bottles, and glasses throughout the year, so this break allows us to apply the coats of lacquer to protect the wood for the new year ahead. Additionally, the lacquer has a tendency to linger for a few weeks, so it's probably best to apply now as to not impact the aromatic experience in the tasting room.
We also ordered some new imagery to adorn the walls and share more of a "behind the scenes" look of Heart & Hands. Everything from the early season bud break to harvest will tell a tale of the season and our vinification practices.
There will also be new wines this season along with a new format for the tastings, so we're pretty excited about getting the season started when the upgrades are wrapped up in the tasting room.
Once the wines have completed fermentation, it gives us an opportunity to look at each vessel (barrel or tank) to assess the wines individually and begin blending trials. Anything from the vineyard, to the tank size, the press date, the fermentation duration, or the yeast selected (to name a few) can create a complex web of variables to select from. For the Rieslings alone, it can take weeks for us to decide on the breakout of the final blends - so it is not for the weary.
Can't forget about our white Pinot Noir - Polarity. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday means a visit to the barrel room to stir the lees to create more richness and complexity in the finished wines. With 5 additional barrels this year, it means spending a tad bit longer working on what the French refer to as "battonage".
Pruning the Vines
And last, but clearly not least, pruning. To me, pruning marks that magical moment that the new season is upon us. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the vines will emerge this spring with new life. Pruning is our way of listening to the vine speak about the previous year - if the vine was small last season, we may need to cut back this year and leave fewer buds for balanced growth. I think it is an exciting time to work with the vines and really hear them. It always teaches me more about my site and how that one vine in that 3 foot space operates.