By Andrew Morris
I have always imagined that winemaking began as a way to preserve food. Someone had more grapes than could be eaten before they would spoil. I picture them putting some of those grapes into a clay urn, rather than a porous basket. When they came back to the urn, a happy accident had occurred: the grapes had fermented and transformed themselves into something magical.
Once yeast has done its work and converted virtually all of the natural grape sugar into alcohol and the remaining elixir is properly protected from further exposure to oxygen, you have a preserved food with the a bonus: consumed within appropriate limits, alcoholic beverages contribute to a healthy and fun lifestyle.
While people often think of winemaking as an autumn pursuit; in actuality, it is a year round process. In the spring, we talk to our local grape farmers, discussing everything from weather conditions to new plantings which will be ready to make into wine in 4.5 years. In the winery, we rack the white wines off of their lees and move wines in and out of the chiller for cold stabilization and clarification in preparation for bottling. In the office we have to do a lot of the behind the scenes work that is substantially less romantic than walking the lush vineyards. We must prepare for bottling by editing and ordering labels, ordering bottles and scheduling crews. In the vineyard, we (grape farmers) prune and tie down vines with a close eye on the year’s unique weather pattern. The whole process has a schedule of its own in sync with the seasons.
Much like the carrots your favorite grower sells you at the farmers market, you are getting much more than what is in the bottle. You are getting a connection to a specific piece of dirt in our local area. You a establishing a relationship with the local farmer who grew the grapes and with a winemaker whose careful attention to each batch brings out the flavor of that site, that grape variety, the spring, summer and fall of that year, and the winemaker’s unique point of view on how a balanced wine tastes.
When you open that bottle of locally farmed, locally made wine, raise your glass to the grape farmer and the winemaker and remember that this part of your meal started as a twinkle in someone’s eye and a conversation between friends many years ago.