Updates from August 2023:
Your crazy winemaker is at it again. The date 12/6/2019 lives in perpetuity here. That was when we yet again bucked tradition and we rolled two oak barrels out the back door to age outside on the crush pad until 4/23/2020. Two barrels inside, two outside. Tradition? Age the wine in caves! Constant temperature, constant humidity — better wine. So “they” say. But that’s not valid science! Unless one tests against hypothesis, yeah, whatever. We rolled two barrels outside and kept 2 inside. One inside and one outside tells us something, but two out and two in tells us a whole lot more. And indeed we discovered that the two outside aged wines were much more smooth and in a blind study of seven tasters, all 7 preferred the two outside barrels over the two inside barrels. Bingo!
Fast forward to today, 8/8/2023. Well, we have to go backwards to 6/20/2023. That’s the date that I did the UNTHINKABLE. Yep, 4 new barrels are in the barn and are filled with Montepulciano 2022. Up and down we go with temperature. I learned that the barrels outside really didn’t like direct rain and sun, and I would not want direct sun in the summer on any wine. Wine over 90 degrees tends to madierize, or carmelize, yikes. But even if the ambient temperature crests above 90, the wine will never make it to that temperature because the average daily temperature is never 90. I can tell you that, at this date, it’s a whoosh! Another outlandish decision gone great!
New wines: Our blend-a-holic ways are front and center, with Grenache added to the dry red list which has 12% of our Sledgehammer Red in it. The “Sledge” as we call it, is a great blend of Merlot, Frontenac and Grenache.
Tommy’s blend, a customer, is finally on the list on the sweet side. A careful blend of Vignoles and Diamond gives us “Clear My Mind,” which is a super complex, fruity sweet wine that in one week is taking over our sweet wine list, pushing aside such venerable stablemates as Blue My Mind, Red My Mind, Lost My Mind and Catawba.
Crimson Cuvee is back on the dry red list and with an assemblage of wines across many vintages, its refined flavors and long finish are particularly pleasing to the palate.
Catherine’s Blend is back…thank goodness, and this semi-sweet white is a crazy good blend of riesling, chardonnay and vignoles. Superb!
Joe’s Jammin’ Red is also back and has in its blend for the first time our Frontenac Rose. So, so, so dang tasty.
Updates from April 2023:
We are in another great year of creating blends. The newest three wines are all very unique blends. We’ll start with Old Capitol Red, a blend of chambourcin, cabernet sauvignon and black muscat. We gained access to black muscat at the very last second last fall when our west coast grower called in a panic because his buyer literally backed out of the grapes after they had been picked. We purchased another stainless steel tank and the grapes came to us. After tasting the grapes, I knew the best wine would be to ferment the grapes on the skins for 2 days, press, then cold ferment and filter, leaving behind natural residual sugar. Un or fortunately, our cold tanks were spoken for and thus we had to go the dry red route with these grapes. And as a dry red on its own, no one is going to like it. The wine is not fruity. Spicy, yes. Fruity, not a chance. But it does have body, mouthfeel and spice and blended in with the fruity chambourcin and cabernet sauvignon, we have made a very stellar blend.
Old Capitol White is a blend of Aromella and Chardonel. The fruity forwardness and overall smoothness of this white wine makes for an easy to approach white that is good for all occasions.
Escape My Mind is the same blend as before, steuben and diamond, but this year’s version is slightly sweeter, courtesy of the 2022 diamond.
Updates from April 2021
Zinfandel 2020, a dry red, has been bottled and released. Originally fermented in stainless steel, then pressed 6 weeks post-fermentation, we finished fermentation in oak barrels. Incredible fruit of blackberry and raspberry notes, lovely tannins, and very intense flavors. A classic!
Winter Solstice NV: An absolute solid blend of 73% Traminette 2020 and 27% Diamond 2019. Tastes dry but there is a slight bit of residual sugar left behind. Spicy and fruity and very loosely filtered to capture a big, bold white wine with lots of character.
Updates from April 2021:
Where to start. Oh yeah, that glass. A wine that is not on the wine list. You know what it is — RIESLING! Yes, we bottled Riesling. Riesling! I intro’d Riesling to a bunch of people late last spring and early summer when we couldn’t conduct tastings. So why not put ALL THE WINES, out there? It’s made a little sweeter than my preference, but good golly is it tasty! Whew!!!!
What’s fun is bouncing between it and the wine with Riesling that is on the list, “Ease My Mind!” “Ease” is 65% Riesling and 35% Geisenheim, a Riesling hybrid off of Chancellor. “Ease” is a treasure! The Geizenheim added some additional acidity and perhaps some citrus notes to the crazy tropical notes of Riesling. As I am typing this, I am sipping back and forth. Okay, which has the longer “last?” A great 30 seconds on Riesling and still goes. Hard to beat. Now for “Ease”. Hmmm…Interesting. A tie, I think. Might have to try this again. Weee!!! This is so fun! No sugar buzz due to no sugar, so no headache.
Next wine: The new “Trio of Taste Satisfaction” on the dry white side (so far, I have revealed 5 glasses on my desk, and a cup of tea!) Rhapsody in White, Chardonnay, and Aromella. Hmmm…With which should I tempt my taste buds first? Still tasting the Riesling. I had to get another sip. Any illegal drugs in this? Ahem. Sorry. Let’s go with Rhapsody in White! Okay, here goes. Slurp. Ha Ha! I didn’t slurp! This is a Chardonnay, Chardonel, and Vignoles blend and I can easily taste all three. After going from Riesling, I can really taste the dryness and the subtle oak, mostly from the Chardonel which aged 18 months in oak. Goodness. Maybe I should try some of that “artificial insemination of oak into wine — liquid oak” in a wine. There’s no way! Uh-oh, I’m coming off the rails with the wine I can see. Anyway, this oak is so subtle, so much like a perfect spouse, like Laura! The oak in this wine, because it’s natural is just so seemingly integrated into the flavors of the wine. Subtle. But the fruit. Wow! Finish. All there. Okay, what’s next. Oh, let’s go with Chardonnay. I’m going to cut grass later today. Ha, that should be funny. The chardonnay is just flat-out classic chardonnay, and I went against my normality and really reduced my blending partners with it. Usually, 8% or so Traminette to extend the finish but this wine only has 2% Aromella added to do the “dirty work” of making the Chardonnay finish exquisitely. Okay, not quite the last of Rhapsody which falls a few seconds short of Riesling, but I like the “package”, the entire package that this Chardonnay is presenting to my senses. Amazing. Oh, I can’t wait for the last one. Here goes. Ahhhh. Aromella! Gosh, the lime and lemon notes are staggering my taste buds and nose hairs. What a ride! Aged outside. The fruit. The acids. Spot on. Finish too! Goodness. What a soothing white wine. We-be-in-trouble the day this sells out. There are five tastings. Wait, there’s another wine glass on my desk!!! How about that? We’ll what should I do? Try it!!! Do tell, what is this lovely red? A shocker. Nothing like this one. Cabernet Sauvignon. A fruit bomb of a red, just bottled — went through the Rhapsody in White filters. This is crazy fruit! Like really smooth and crazy fruit. Soft cherry-berry notes just fly around everywhere. Ahhh….. Very drinkable.
And yet, I find one more wine glass. I have no idea how I am still typing or what this email is going to look like. I may have to edit it tomorrow morning. Cabernet Franc!!! Whoa! Just blew a gasket in my taste buds! The tannins. Goodness, this is a tight wine. I knew it was but still. Made saignee by bleeding juice during fermentation to give us a higher skin-to-juice ratio. Added some cab sauv in at bottling plus some 2008 Chambourcin to soften and liven up the fruit. This is a “two taste bud” wine…fer sure!!!! Yes, that’s a purposeful typo.
Last two. Yes, two more glasses. Sweet time again!!! Wine not, right? We’re screwed! Catawba! It’s Red. Yes, Red. No, not some shade of pink-red, but red. The flavors were beyond ripe. Never tasted anything like it. 2019 was super clear and a little under-ripe, but this one is super ripe! You can still taste some classic catawba flavors, but there is something different about this one. Wow! What flavors!!! What a finish. Where is that Riesling? Dang it, empty! Well, I have some Ease! Okay, finish time, who finishes longer? Hmmm….interesting. Ease is longer, but Catawba really explodes in the mouth. Wow!
Lost My Mind has that 2020 Catawba in it. Trying….ridiculous! That’s just ridiculously good! Superb!!! What a fruit bomb!!! Dang!
Updates from December 2020:
We had to make an “upgrade” on our sweet wine side. It seemed like we were selling out of a few gems and there were several former mainstays that needed to come back, such as…CATHERINE’S BLEND! Whoop.
I told Cath that we may have blended one of the single best blends ever. Before setting the stage to blend the wine, I looked at every single blend we had ever done. So many incredible blends have been put together to create that zip, that zing, that full flavor that it has been known for during these many years. The two most notable varieties in the blend are Vignoles and Chardonnay. The best blends are from our vineyard’s Vignoles and my friend in Lodi’s chardonnay. I have three partner growers and all grow dazzling chardonnay grapes. For this wine, we knew we would use Geisenheim, a relative of riesling, and a recent grape in the Catherine production. For fermentation, we cut the fermentation at the same level as a “My Mind” sweet wine, which gave us a lot of options for complexity to dry it out with the other varieties. We pulled samples of chardonnay, chardonel, and Vignoles from my New York partner (we had no Vignoles from our vineyard in 2019 due to a herbicide drift) and our 2020 harvest of Vignoles. The blend came together splendidly and quickly. The chardonnay added to the Geisenheim added a great smoothness, but it was the Vignoles from our 2020 harvest with its pop of acid and crispness that closed the deal. I don’t think I have run into anyone yet who hasn’t liked this wine. Seriously. It’s been a slam dunk! Luckily, we blended a ton of it so availability should last quite some time. But still. This one’s designed to taste great now and age and age.
Serendipity is back! What is “Serendipity?” Well, we haven’t blended it since 2017, due mostly to herbicide drift in our vineyard. It’s a blend of Vignoles and traminette and is the original Catherine’s Blend from 2004. We took our 2020 Vignoles and blended it with 2020 traminette from our partner grower in PA (traminette got hit hard with our May 8th freeze this year). It’s sweet, but not “that” sweet, and what I have found is, for me, there is no better foodie wine than this one. It’s got some snappy spice from the traminette that really pops with the acidity of the Vignoles. The finish is very long and enduring. Just a gem of a wine. It also, over the years, is one of those wines that I’ll take off the list very prematurely to hold inventory for folks who want Serendipity during our concerts.
Traminette (Sweet): I miss our estate grown traminette this year. This variety, like many, demonstrates site-specific or what we call terroir, flavors. Our vineyard partner is right on the shores of Lake Erie and the soils are very well drained. Our vineyard serves up nice mineral content whereas our partners provide more body and mouthfeel. Both provide about the same amount and quality of flavonoid compounds, thank goodness, so there is a built-in consistency within the traminette. We stopped fermentation not quite in the “My Mind” level of residual sugar (3.5%) but not where I typically go for my personal sweet spot (1.5%) because I knew I would use it for making Serendipity. It’s not quite “Sweet Tortuga” (remember that sweet traminette that I really need to make again!) but sweeter than our last sweet traminette. Good, no great lingering flavors.
Geisenheim (the Riesling hybrid) is back! And, of course, sweeter than the last time, this time parked right at the “My Mind” sweetness or just a shade off (3.2%) because I knew I would use it for blending to make Catherine’s Blend. It was popular at 1.5% residual sugar, it’s now stealing “My Mind” customers at 3.2%. Great acid, lovely tropical fruit flavors, I’m so glad my partner grower in New York grows this oddball of a grape. It’s on my list to plant!!!! If I can only find cuttings/starts….sigh! Why is it an “oddball?” It’s so obscure that it doesn’t even appear as a grape variety on the federal registry of grapes, that’s why!
Red My Mind: Okay, dilemma. Are we out? NO!! But the Red My Mind customers have had a treat the past two years. My PA grower has had two straight optimal summers to grow concord and this wine elevated in the past two years to become “thing 2” in sales right behind “thing 1” a.k.a. “Blue My Mind.” Due to logistics, to get the Geisenheim into fermentation, we needed to shelve our PA grapes into freezing and we had to rely on our NY partner at harvest time. There was a certain intensity and mouthfeel (going back to that) from my PA grower. In trouble down here in southern IN! Until….blending. Red my Mind for the longest time has been pure concord. What to do? Easy. Added Geisenheim. Just enough and voila, the bright, vivid flavors, which are inescapable, by the way, of concord but adding in just the right amount of Geisenheim gave it the smoothness we were looking for. Right now, we are thawing the PA grapes and I have full intentions of blending the two concords together in two months.
One and Done (the “P” wine): Ever get “the look” from your spouse? Know what that’s like? That’s this wine. A simply bad calculation on my part, or perhaps the lack of slowing down just enough during the rush of October. Is “One and Done” bad? Oh no. Not at all. It’s an incredible blend of cabernet franc 2015, Frontenac 2019, and diamond 2019, making this wine-made logistics in the winery simply roll. When putting into the computer spreadsheets all my winemaking notes right before Thanksgiving (the spreadsheets hadn’t been updated since August — literally no time), I realized, A, that’s a lot of winemaking, and B, that’s a lot of logistics. Had we not blended and bottled this wine, logistics on other wines may have come to a screeching halt! Literally! I was super proud of this “Joe’s Jammin’ Red” blend that I blended and bottled. Thought it was great. Perfect for Joe’s. Then Laura tried it. “No, you cannot call this Joe’s Jammin’ Red. It doesn’t taste like Joe’s and there is way too much alcohol.” Wait, what? “Too much alcohol!!! Can’t you taste that heat?” Dang it….sigh. Yep, sure can. “Okay, it does taste great, Jim…..But it’s not Joe’s Jammin’ Red!” Yikes! So why is it called “the P wine and how did I screw this up? During the concerts, we ran out of Joe’s and some folks wanted that off-dry red. Well, there’s my mistake over there. Not labeled. Not worried about it. We make custom labels from time to time and I had some leftover Our Lady of Providence High School 50-year anniversary labels. So taking care of a customer during the Sunday music, I grabbed a bottle and slapped a blue and white label with a big ol’ “P” on it. Before I could blink an eye, a customer at the concert sees that someone is drinking a non-Turtle Run wine and reported the culprits to me. Nope, it’s this little mistake, a high heat Joe’s, so to speak. “Can I have one?” Now, there are two areas drinking “illegal” wine. You see where this is going. More bottles, more eyes, more reports, and more “P” wine!!!! So how did I screw it up? Easy! The computer. I looked at our last Joe’s blend and I had all of the components, but instead of cracking open a bottle I just made the best wine I could. The problem is evaporation. And topping off barrels. When it is humid, the alcohol evaporates through the barrel’s oak staves. When dry, water evaporates. When we try and test our barrels, we top off with more wine. In the course of a year, the alcohol percentage typically climbs per barrel a percent and a half. So only paying attention to flavor, I blended with nearly the same quantities as before, but One and Done are a percent and a quarter more than Joe’s in alcohol. You can taste it. And it tastes great!!! But it’s not Joe’s. It is the same blend as Joe’s as before, franc, Frontenac, and diamond. So what do I call this one-time wine that I’ll never make again? One and Done!!
Updates from November 2020: It can be hard to keep up with the website. From August to the first or second week of November it is an absolute rush to keep up with the winemaking. From harvest to controlling fermentation, pressing dry reds, to barrel work to bottling. It’s constant movement. It’s great!
So I’ll highlight a few wines that have rolled out this fall.
Vignoles 2020: I’ve got such a wild thought on this wine. More on that. It’s fun when we can get some 2020 wines on the list while in 2020 and it happens every year that we have an early release or two. If the wine is ready, why not? But there is another persistent reason for getting 2020s on the wine list. Harvest and tank and barrel space. If we don’t do it, we run out of space due to incoming grapes. At this time of the year, I sometimes think back and think, how did we manage this year’s harvest? It’s fun indeed. I absolutely love racy bright whites and this one fits the bill. Clean, refreshing fruit, a long and lingering aftertaste. Its crispness is a delight. And the wine is super clear! More on that.
Robin’s Revenge 2020: This year, we faced three freezes which changed the outcome of the wines we can make from our vineyard. The freezes were April 14, 15, and May 8. It seems in the past 7 years that April and May are trending colder, while the fall months, September, October, and November are trending warmer. With many varieties of grapes, we grow sitting on way-below-normal harvests, field blending of different grapes and different juices are front and center. This one was the trickiest of all because the blend I knew would be Steuben, traminette, diamond, and catawba, and the harvest would occur over the course of a month, so we had to keep fermentation from starting. And the harvest of diamonds would be problematic as bumblebees would be among the grapes when we harvest. You’re probably thinking stings, right? That’s not what I’m thinking. I’m thinking yeast for bumblebees carries yeast. And lots of them. So at crush, there will be natural fermentation. The problem is catawba, which harvests typically 2 weeks later than diamond. And since we do not back-sweeten, this is a nightmare. Sure enough, we were able to control the fermentation, taking the tank down to super cold. But you could taste some spritz / CO2 developing. In the end, we were able to save everything and we made a splendid semi-sweet white wine. The original juice was ruby red in color but the yeast metabolized all of the color compounds during fermentation, also known as anthocyanin. Refreshing, vividly light in color, just like Vignoles, which makes me think….hmmm.
We have always struggled with starlings and robins swooping in to eat our crop. They seem to believe there is an agreement — I grow the grapes, they eat the grapes. So we are absolutely vigilant in our defenses. In 2019, they definitely got more than their fair share and since birds live a long time and they teach, we needed to step it up.
Terroir is a French term that establishes the concept that the unique areas in which grapes are grown provide unique flavors to wines unto only that location. Slope, soil type, subsoil type, climate, and micro-climate all come into play. So does trellising techniques, any amelioration to the soils, you name it. Wines contain upwards of 1500 chemical compounds.
Normally, our whites are golden in color. Yet, this year, they are brilliantly clear, almost like water. That’s never happened. Nor has the bird’s system we utilized this year ever worked so well at keeping out the birds. We have an older system from Bird Gard but it really didn’t do much. After the 2019 obliteration of our crop, and with a minimal amount of crop due to the freezes, we needed to protect everything. The problem was I was looking rather late in the year to make a purchase, early July. I saw a very cool system out of England. Subsonic noises. Yeah, I’m all in. But can I get it in time? Loved the videos on lasers. Work fantastic. But what if I hit human and dog eyes? Not good. So back to Bird Gard I go. Guaranteed no bird damage? Seriously?!?! No, our system is better than it was 20 years ago, we guarantee it. After Google mapped our vineyard, they sent me their recommendation, the Bird Gard Super Pro Momba-Jomma deluxe package. The price? Um….really?!?!? Guaranteed? Um…okay!
BTW, Jim, you really ought to do something with those tree lines on the west side and that central location of wild blackberries — those are launch sites for the birds. Still, guarantee? Yep. Leaving them.
The problem with the old system and their lesser expensive system is the singular direction of the speakers. Like your stereo speakers — they are singular direction. “Me thinks” that was one of the problems with the old system — the birds figured out what was making the noise — they could see the source.
The new system is pole mounted 4 speakers pointing north, south, east, and west. And there are 4 systems in the vineyard, so 16 total speakers blaring in every direction. I thought I had to turn the system on daily, but I discovered on day 2 after installation that they have photo-electric, so the system shuts off at dark and comes on at dawn. Note to self, turn off the system if pending storms are coming through at night because lightning triggers them to sound off! So on day 2, I go out to turn on the four systems. System 1 is in Chambourcin. I turn it on and starlings fly out of Vignoles to my neighbor’s silo. What the heck is that, you could see them thinking. Then I walk over to system 2, in Vignoles and close to the silo. Boom, they take off. But they don’t go far. They must be thinking, what the heck???? So I walk over to system 3 in the diamond. The birds are in formation looking down at their feast trying to see what creature is eating birds. Where is it? I’m due south of their flying at system 3. As they turn north, I turn on system 3, so they get the noises now coming from the south and east of them. Yikes! They bug out. Then I nonchalantly walk over to system 4 in Frontenac, turn it on, and go about my day.
Terroir: Everything about the location affects the flavor of the wine. Well, we had zero bird damage this year. None. So no damaged berries going into winemaking. No bacteria for fungus laces berries going into fermentation. One of the world’s most expensive wines, Chateau D’Yquem, is made solely from damaged grapes.
So as I type this, I’m beginning to wonder if some bird damage is a good thing, adding complexity to the wines. It’s a crazy, convoluted thought but in 20 years of making Vignoles, we have never made crystal clear Vignoles. And we have never had bird damage.
I will be purchasing that system out of England in the springtime. The birds will wise up to Bird Gard at some point, so I need to stay ahead of them by hitting them with more and more tricks.
We, humans, have lived most of our entire existence in harmony and in fighting with nature. Wines have been drunk for thousands of years, all with insect and bird damage. It’s just a wondering thought right now if I need to be less vigilant. Lose crop, gain more complexity in wines. We’ll still keep the birds at bay for 2021 and if the white wines are brilliantly clear next year, then I’ll know. One year can be an anomaly. Two, then you got something.
Cabernet Franc 2019: We have been bottling 1 and 2-barrel blends all year long. For this final bottling, I added what we call Max’s Small Batch Red reserve wine into the bottling. Just a little, about 8%. Wow! Insane!!!
Chardonnay 2019: All chardonnay bottlings get screwed with. We’re adding something, 6% of this or 8% of that is usually the norm. The main reason is to boost acidity and increase the finish. The new release has 7% Vignoles and 6% traminette. Awesome!
Max’s Small Batch Red #59. This was tough because I was saving St. Croix for another blend, but it blended so well with cabernet sauvignon and the Max reserve that I had to, had to, put this wine together. Super intense flavors through and through. Complex as can be with a long, lingering finish.
Updates from April 2020: Since the last update, we have added seven new wines to the list.
At Turtle Run, we will blend across the spectrum of wines. We will try aging techniques that may never have been tried. Some of the things we do must be firsts for the wine industry. If there is an asterisk next to the wine, there is a high percentage chance that this process is perhaps new to winemaking or exceedingly rare.
* Max’s Small Batch Red #57. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, 2017, 2018, Syrah 2019, St. Croix 2019. The rare air: Two of them. Three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon in one wine and four total vintages. Find any winery anywhere that has tried that. Then there is the blending of St. Croix, what is called an interspecific hybrid variety into traditional vinifera varieties. The wine is incredibly smooth and complex. Try it out of multiple glasses to get the full experience. I’ve had wines over $100 and this wine is in that category.
* Painted Red 2019: The rare air: Blending interspecific hybrids with traditional vinifera varieties, this time Frontenac with Zinfandel. Totally works. It’s probably less rare of an idea but I haven’t run into any wineries doing it. The acids and fruit of Frontenac totally work with the more tannic Zinfandel. Lovely fruit, lovely complexity. Easy drinking dry red.
* Cabernet Franc 2019: The rare air: No one, absolutely no one could possibly have tried what we did to age this wine. We placed two barrels of franc on a pallet on December 8, 2019, rolled it outside, and didn’t do anything to the barrels until bringing them in on March 24, 2019. We violated all rules of aging wine. The barrels got rained and snowed on. Got sun too. And clouds. They got very cold and nearly hot which is why they came in on the 24th of March. The flavors are beyond spectacular. Who says that wine has to be aged in controlled temperatures with controlled humidity? Unless one has tried the opposite, one wouldn’t know, would one? The fruit is so, so, so darn up front and clean and refreshing. Like eating very, very fresh berries and the oak from the barrels is incredibly refined.
* Catherine’s Blend 2019: The rare air: Again the cross varietal blending, and in America, no sugar or juice is added. This wine is spectacularly fruity, a blend of Chardonnay, Vignoles, Riesling, Chardonel, and Geisenheim. The sweetness is very clean and refreshing.
* Rhapsody in White 2019: The rare air: Yet again, cross varietal blending. For a dry white, this wine hits all the notes of awesome fruit and complexity. It’s a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 24% Vignoles, 24% Chardonel, and 2% Riesling. The finish is spectacularly long and the wine is incredibly refreshing.
Summer Solstice 2019: No asterisk here as it’s a simple blend of two hybrids, chardonel and traminette. It is one of the absolute favorites of our regular customers, especially our concert customers, so I am super happy that this wine is back on the wine list. It usually stays on the list for about 6 months and its claim to fame is its citrus notes. Somehow the spicy traminette and the apple-ish chardonel make quite the citrus blend.
Updated February 2020: Time for dry reds: Syrah 2020 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
We have 3 vineyards, plus ours, that supply all of our grapes. The fun thing is each has weather variances which make the winemaking fun and exciting because I literally know that each vintage is going to be unique. Syrah, probably over the years, has really undergone perhaps the biggest variances, all good. But to think “A” that I could rush a syrah onto the market, and “B” do it without additives is “C” crazy!
I thought the Syrah grapes were exquisite when they arrived. Dark berries! Tasted great. We fermented and aged the wine on the syrah skins for 5 weeks, 3 weeks longer than the traditional American method of 2 days to 2 weeks, but right on, a little shorter time for us. The longer contact builds more body and character but sometimes the color can dissipate slightly. What we received was a wine that is much lighter in color after pressing, softer in tannins with great essences of the syrah grape. So it became a target for early entry on the wine list. It would, however, need some winemaking tricks to be ready in under 9 months. Now, here’s where we got a little tricky and broke from winemaking conventional wisdom. Bottled traminette! Yes, I wanted the dry traminette on the list and on my taste buds. I also wanted to introduce Winter Solstice, a blend of traminette and diamond.
Back to syrah. How is traminette involved with syrah? Did we add traminette to the syrah? Sort of, but not. Here’s where we probably broke international wine-making rule #8, or perhaps #1 or #2. Two things I tell people: if you want to make great wine, keep things very clean and keep oxygen out. So let’s look at cleanliness, or lack thereof to make a superb Syrah. This is not the first time I did this trick. In 2010, our chardonnay from that vintage was fermented in a dirty tank that had previously contained Vignoles. So let’s go over dirt! What we did was this: We bottled the traminette and Winter Solstice on the same day, gently pulling clean barrel fermented traminette from the barrels, leaving behind the lees or spent yeast cells of traminette. To preserve their freshness, we dosed the barrels with CO2. The following day, we heavy splashed syrah into the barrels, thus stirring up the spent traminette yeast cells into the very clean syrah, which made for a very cloudy syrah. Over time, the yeast re-settled to the bottom of the barrel. While settling, autolysis occurred. Autolysis is the process of yeast cell walls breaking down which allows the mannoproteins of the yeast to attach to tannins in the wine, thus softening the wine and adding smoothness and mouthfeel. We left the wine in the barrels for 3 months. For comparison, we tried the same syrah which we placed in clean barrels, and those clean barrels, my friend, are simply not ready. Now, I could have “gone chemical additive”…….yeah, um no. So we pulled off, using good old-fashioned, Old World techniques to help a wine get to market a little earlier without compromising the healthy ingredients in the wine, nor does it taste rushed.
Speaking of not rushing. Cabernet Sauvignon anyone? Eighteen months in oak. Gently filled from the top of the aging tank into the barrels. No autolysis. Just time. Pure intensity. As some of you know, I like to say “I have 10,502 taste buds,” and with that many taste buds, you’ll never see me ask for a bitter beer, like a stout or an IPA. Just isn’t happening. This is the most intense Cabernet we have ever made. Intense, dense, tannins that say “Hi.” But there is a great deal of balance within the wine. For those of you who have said “You have 2 taste buds,” this is your wine! What we did in fermentation comes full circle. In 2017, we used a process called “carbonic maceration” in which we sort of trick an anaerobic fermentation within the berry itself through CO2. So it’s a non-yeast fermentation. The free run juice was naturally fermented with yeast, but the core, the berries, were not. That made for a deliciously fruity, unique cab.
In 2018, I went “hardcore” for the cab. High temperature, right on the edge of the heat killing the yeast for bigger extraction. Six weeks on the skins with heavy press settings to squeeze out even more tannins. The goal was to blend it back with some 17 to make a spectacularly complex cab, which we did and to age some for the Max’s Small Batch Red program. The funny thing is we have pretty well sold through the 17/18 blend, thus necessitating the need to check on the 18. Dang! So if you like a really grippy, full-on cab, we have one. I haven’t made one this big, I don’t think, ever! I have tasted ones this big and rich at plus $50 a bottle though. We had the right grapes and I simply got darn lucky to have applied the perfect fermentation techniques to maximize what these grapes could give and used the right aging techniques to highlight the “big-ness” that this grape offered for winemaking.
I do have one barrel left of traminette-aged syrah which I am offering up to the Max’s Small Batch Red program, several “clean” ones which will take time to develop, and thankfully several more barrels of the cab. We did two barrel bottlings of each wine, so we are in good shape, inventory-wise, for syrah and cab.
Updated January 2020: The “My Mind” wines are bottled!
December was what we call a “My Mind” sell-out-a-thon kind of month. We literally sold out of nearly every one of them. Our wholesaler was screaming for them. I get it. Nothing like getting into the Christmas season with your top-selling wines not available. And since we have a huge following for these no sugar added wines, yeah, being out was a problem. There are four vineyards that produce the grapes for our winery, plus one in Lodi, CA, one in North East, PA, and one in upstate NY.
The “My Mind” grapes primarily come from our folks in Pennsylvania. Due to an early fall in their area, the struggle for ripening the grapes was real! As grapes ripen, not only do sugars increase but acids drop and flavor compounds develop. For some grape varieties, an earlier harvest provides better flavors than later harvests.
All of the grapes came into us at one time, concord, catawba, Steuben, Niagara, and riesling. Because all of these wines are reliant upon natural sweetness, no sugar or juice added after fermentation at bottling, etc, we had to watch the fermentations very carefully. And interestingly enough, which makes no sense whatsoever, or maybe it does, who knows, but our August and September fermentations absolutely fly, but the ones that started in late November, regardless of the juice temperature, seem to struggle. From August – September, we are literally freezing the fermenting wines to slow them down. November – December, practically heating them or at minimum, not cooling them down. In August – September, we can use temperature to guide the fermentation to the hour and day we want to filter the wines (that’s how we stop fermentation, we filter the yeast out on the hour of the day). For instance, a Wednesday at 10:00 AM to filter wine is very convenient. However, our November – December fermentations are on “their time”. This means 24-7 filtering, and several could be ready on the same day. One mid-December day, I filtered wine at 3:45 AM and followed up with another at 9:00 AM (then had an evening swim meet to coach — made the bus with 7 minutes to spare!).
Our Red My Mind is pure concord. Deliciously red grape all the way through.
Blue My Mind is pure Steuben and hits your taste buds with a combo of tropical fruits.
Lost My Mind is a very careful blend of catawba and concord and the blend totally rocks. The wine is very intense and bursts with great fruity flavors
Crossed My Mind (not on the wine list, but is a very smooth and inviting red wine). We do have stock of the wine, so ask for it. Our wholesaler pretty well purchased our entire bottling line of t
Slip My Mind is pure Niagara and it is crazy tasty.
Escape My Mind is a little drier and is a wine made by blending the juices of three of the following: Steuben, Concord, Niagara, and Catawba. Funny enough, you can’t blend finished wines to create these flavors. There is something about fermenting the juices together which unlocks flavors that I simply cannot get by post-blending wines.
Updated November 2019
I am going to try to remember to add the newest wines here monthly. Wish me luck!!!
Max’s Small Batch Red #56: I love Bordeaux Reds, the really grippy dry reds. I really like the Bordeaux Reds that are not only grippy (strong tannins) but ones with complex flavors and a rich mouthfeel. Number 56 checks the boxes, but it took blending to get me there. This wine is a distinctive blend of cabernet sauvignon 2015, 2017, and 2018, not the same blend as Max’s 55. Then I added 28% of fresh “field blended” st. croix, corot noir, noiret, and chamobourcin. We very lightly filtered this wine to maintain the amazing complexities so there is a chance your bottle may have some very light sediment in it. That is okay. Nothing wrong with a little sediment in wine from time to time.
Seyval Blanc 2018: Speaking of sediment, I decided, due to quantity we could not cold stabilize this wine before bottling. Cold stability removes excess tartaric acid and potassium through the process of creating a creme of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, which is used in cooking. But the process of cold stability can reduce the flavor compounds in wine too. This wine is both partial tank fermented and barrel fermented. The wine started in stainless steel and we flash filtered it to preserve some natural residual sugar. By adding it to oak and re-inoculating it with new yeast we were able to bring out a more fruit-forward version with some oak overtones, something that can’t quite be replicated if we barrel fermented.
Dry Traminette 2019: A blend of two barrels of traminette, fermented and finished dry in the barrels. Traminette packs a lot of fruity esters, so it’s easy to barrel ferment and keep a lot of fruit. We were kind of missing what I would call a clean and refreshing finish wine, and this one hits the spot.
Winter Solstice 2019: A new wine for us. What happens when you ask a customer on a Saturday on the fly, “Hey, would you like to blend an interesting white with me?” Yeah, we blend. This wine is a blend of traminette and diamond. Very few have heard of diamond, but it’s a fairly easy grape for us to grow and it produces a great, fruit-forward wine, typically sweet to semi-sweet to off dry. Blended together, we make a very refreshing white, with a good hint of oak. It can be hard to ascertain the sweetness, but it’s there.