How We Make Wine at Mount Salem Vineyards
As the air cools and leaves change, it always feels obvious that the end of another year is coming. But for winemakers, it’s only just beginning, as this time of year marks the start of harvest season.
Now at Mount Salem Vineyards, we’re starting to cut fruit from our vines before the crush process begins, which is when we crush the fruit so the juice can begin fermenting. We’re looking forward to a vintage that has both quality and quantity this year, thanks to warm and dry weather with few days of summer rain.
Next year, our customers will find out if our predictions were right, when we begin offering rose and Riesling in the spring, other whites in the fall, red in late fall and early winter and some other wines not until two years or more from now.
Sounds fairly straightforward, right? In actuality, winemaking is much more complicated and uncertain than most people expect, especially considering we get one chance per year for a delicious vintage.
When we must tell you that only a few cases are left, we mean it – winemaking is not a process for the impatient. That’s rings especially true here at our winery, where we do almost all of our work by hand in efforts to control the quality; never add extracts or color boosters and very little sulfur; and never add engineered yeast cells to ferment our wine so we can maximize the local terroir and flavor (a risky approach, since an entire wine batch can be lost if spoilage yeasts take over.)
Here’s what Mount Salem Vineyards will be up to as we enter our 16th winemaking season.
Our step-by-step winemaking process
Step 1: Although all grapes start as green, we get to watch our grapes change colors as the winemaking process begins. Most whites turn yellow, while most reds become dark blue or even black.
Step 2: In early September, we begin sampling our grapes to test them for sugar, pH and acidity so we can determine when they will be ready to pick. (For example, Riesling grapes taste like Riesling wine when the grapes are ready to pick.)
Step 3: To determine when to harvest – a tough decision, but one that gets easier with experience – we consider the calendar date, coming weather and the conditions of the grapes. If left too long, they’ll rot on the vine, so it’s clear – the decision to harvest is as much of an art as it is a science.
Step 4: Once we decide when to harvest, we loosen bird netting and our harvesters venture into the vineyard and begin cutting grape clusters to place into “lugs” (containers that hold up to 40 pounds of grapes.) If grapes are in excellent condition, this can be a quick job, but if not, harvesters must triage each cluster and throw some away on the spot.
Step 5: We take the lugs to the crash pad, dump them into a machine that pulls each grape from the cluster and then crushes it, leaving behind a 1,500-pound bin of grape juice and crushed skins.
Step 6: At the period when the worlds of white wine and red vine diverge, the white skins and juice are pressed immediately so that just the juice remains, while the red skins and juice remain together so that the red skins can leech their color into the juice.
Step 7: Now that harvest and crush are complete, the winemaker – who, at the best places, is involved from the start regardless – takes the baton. Here at Mount Salem Vineyards, there’s no separation between the two at all.
And finally, a vintage is yielded for your consumption at Mount Salem Vineyards. Come visit us at 54 Mount Salem Rd., Pittstown, where you can sample the current vintage and see our vineyard in action.