Ohio Grape and Wine Conference: Making Good Wine from a Difficult Harvest
Ohio’s 2011 growing season and harvest was one of the wettest on record.
‘It was the worst harvest I’ve seen in 30 years. We had 75 inches of rain,” says Nick Ferrante, owner and winemaker at Ferrante Winery and Ristorante, speaking at the 2012 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference, sponsored jointly by the Ohio Grape Industries Commission, the Ohio State University Extension office and the Ohio Wine Producers Association.
Ferrante was one of four commercial wine-makers who discussed the challenges of wine-making after a difficult growing season — handling fruit with varying percentages of rot, low maturity and low sugars, as well as sluggish fermentation and post-harvest hydrogen sulfide.
Despite the difficulties, however, all four of the Ohio wine makers produced 2011 wines they were happy with. Here are a few of the methods they employed:
Good vineyard management
Leaf plucking, cluster thinning and an effective spray program were critical elements in growing the 2011 vintage, says Andy Troutman, owner and operator of Troutman Vineyards and the Winery at Wolf Creek.
Beau Guilliams, the winemaker at Ravens Glenn Winery says spraying can make a big difference with difficult harvests. ‘We didn’t experience the downy mildew or black rot we might have if we hadn’t sprayed,” he says. ‘I know it can be difficult to afford a sprayer, but if you have a couple acres of grapes, you can’t afford not to. The money you invest will be well spent,” he adds.
Trained, experienced pickers.
‘It was important to come in with clean grapes,” says Troutman, ‘so we hired experienced pickers and trained them to go slow, take their time, and to recognize good fruit from bad fruit so only good fruit would make it to the winery.”
Lee Klingshirn, owner and winemaker at Klingshirn Winery, says they also did extensive training with their hand pickers. ‘We taught them to drop off the rotten part,” he says, and only experienced drivers were allowed to do the mechanical picking. Even then, says Klingshirn, ‘We kept the tractor bins light.”
Fast, light pressing
‘We crushed and pressed quickly to avoid over extraction of phenols and solids,” says Klingshirn. ‘We did no extra pressing.”
Klingshirn says he was generous with sulfer dioxide additions to improve settling time and effectiveness, and added Bentonite to the fresh juice when fruit showed a high percentage of rot.
Troutman, however, says he was light-handed with SO2., ‘But I did buy lots of tannins.” He says he used five pounds of tannins per 1,000 gallons to stabilize color.
Ravens Glenn has been using tannins for a few years to boost body and mouth feel, says Guilliams. Tannins were important, he adds, in ridding the 2011 Noiret of it herbaciousness while maintaining color. ‘I use about three and a half pounds to 1,000 gallons,” he says.
Ferrante says he also adds tannins, Scott’s Color-Pro and Color X, as well as oak chips and oak powders. ‘We crushed into stainless steel tanks and bled off Pinot Noir at 15%, Cabernet Sauvignon at 25%,” says Ferrante.
For Troutman, nitrogen levels in the must were low so he added diammonium phosphate to aide fermentation. ‘We wanted to get through the process as quickly as possible,” he says.
Klingshirn says normal selections of yeast were used during their fermentation process. “Generally, fermentation went well, with few problems. Nearly every fermentor proceeded and was completed in the normal time,” says Klingshirn.
‘Yeast rehydration nutrients worked for the stuff we had problems with,” says Guillams, adding: ‘Even so, we still had two week fermentations.”
At Ferrante, fermentation was sluggish due to low yeast assimilable nitrogen and other nutrient deficiencies. ‘We had some five week fermentations,” says Ferrante, ‘And three to four tanks stuck on us. We carefully followed the protocol in the lab handbook and added stronger yeast strains to move it along.”
Ferrante was also concerned about hydrogen sulfite issues brought about by fruit quality issues. ‘We checked the tanks every day. That means I climbed the ladders and used my sense of smell to detect any possible sulfite odors.” If the flinty odor is detected, Ferrante’s solution is to rack the tank as soon as possible. ‘I also keep a jar of shiny copper pennies nearby,” he adds. The copper penny trick — dropping new pennies into the offending wine — will eliminate the odor.
The 2011 Vintage
‘Overall,” says Klingshirn, ‘we were pleased with the results, considering the circumstances.” The Concords were light in color and flavor, but more aromatic, he notes. ‘Nearly every other variety exhibited some diluted characteristics in their aroma and flavor concentration, but a balance was there due to normal acidity levels,” he adds.
The other wine makers were also pleased with their 2011 Vintages although, as Klingshirn said, “It’s no fun picking in the mud.” Given today’s advances in enology, Ohio’s skillful winemakers can meet weather challenges and produce excellent wine in all conditions.