While everyone else around town has been getting ready for Oktoberfest, we spent the month of September hard at work out on the farm and vineyard. After a month with almost a dozen harvests, we’re just about ready for a little celebrating ourselves. But first we thought we would take the time to share a little bit about everything that goes on behind the scenes with the wine making process. We have been walking you through the science behind the wine with our WINE 101 series and now we want to share with you about the art of winemaking.
However, it’s important to remember, that for us, “the art” doesn’t happen without the science and there is always a scientific explanation for the art. The art of winemaking is just style with which we utilize the science. The art of wine making can not and does not happen (effectively or consistently) without the knowledge and use of science, whether that is in the vineyard or winery. That being said, a winemaker can understand all the science but not be able to create something beautiful if he/she is not an artist. This science and art dynamic is a huge part of our philosophy at Habersham Winery & Vineyards.
So today we’ll save the story of how we go from a single grape seed to a vineyard full of healthy and robust vines for another day. And while we hope to share with you the bottling and labeling process soon, today we want to give you a glimpse of how we get the grapes off the vine and into our barrels and tanks back at the winery.
Our vineyard is located in Habersham County, a few short miles from our Winery and Tasting Room in Helen. While you can call it a vineyard, we are first and foremost farmers so we like to think of it as a farm . . . a big old ecosystem of life that is dependent on everyone doing their job to ensure it’s overall success.
Our farm (or vineyard) is divided into different fields and each field has it’s own varietal of grape, for example, Chambourcin grapes or Chardonnay grapes. Each of these fields grows at it’s own rate and produces different yields from the one across the field. In our part of North Georgia, the grapes start going through veraison (the process where the colors of the grape take form: red and black or yellow and green depending on the variety) in August and September.
There is a whole lot of science involved at this stage but since we’re talking about the art of winemaking here, we’ll tell you this is when we get real happy. We ramble through the rows “snacking” on grapes while spitting out the seeds. We look, feel and touch the grapes . . . checking under the canopies as they deepen in color. The farm which is normally quiet except for the birds and footsteps of our Vineyard Manager Matt Chobanian, starts to hum with life and activity. The farm springs to life. The gears start to shift. The tools get prepped. A plan and schedule goes into place to get all the grapes from point A to point B in a short amount of time. We work all year for this so when these days finally arrive, we’re excited and ready.
We start by “snipping” entire clusters of grapes off the vines. We snip toward the top and take off whole clusters, often holding more than a 100 grapes on them, and put them in 5-gallon buckets as we work up and down the rows all morning. It is not uncommon for a team of a dozen or more to work for 5 or 6 hours just to clear one field of the harvest.
Throughout the morning we empty our 5-gallon buckets into big plastic boxes loaded on the back of a trailer. The tractor pulls it ahead of us in the rows and waits for us to fill these boxes to the top. We fill them as high as we can and spread the clusters around making sure to use every bit of space we have in the boxes. Once we get 8-10 of these boxes full, the truck takes them over to the winery where the rest of team is waiting patiently for us. For this particular harvest, we loaded up the truck twice with over 16 total boxes of white Seyval Blanc grapes!
When we get to the winery, we begin the process of weighing the grapes. This is important for a variety of reasons – all mostly scientific stuff about yields, etcetera. But the team scurries around weighing each box one by one until they are all weighed, measured, and their information recorded for later use.
At this point, it gets fun. A little adventurous. But mostly fun.
All 16 boxes have to get destemmed and crushed. Luckily for us we have a big machine that does a lot of this hard work for us.
We load the boxes on a fork lift and slowly (very slowly) pour them into the destemmer before heading off to the crusher. The destemmer does it’s work by pulling the grapes away from the stems and spitting out what’s left in one direction while the grapes get piped over to the nearby crusher where they go through the final stages for this process by getting “juiced” by the crusher.
We then pipe the juice to our tanks or barrels to begin the process of fermentation.
A few months to a year later (depending on the bottle of wine we’re making) we have a delicious final product ready for pouring in our Winery & Tasting Room or for you to take back home with you in a bottle.
This whole harvest and crush process takes place from beginning to end over the course of a day and with a team of over 20 people being involved at various steps along the way.
We have come along way from our first bottle over 30 years ago. We now have bigger tractors and big machines that due the destemming and crushing for us. But at the end of the day, it’s still about the same as it was all those years ago. Our family and team has grown larger, but we still treat this whole process like farmers. There is a lot of magic and science and art and good old fashioned hard work that goes into getting that grape into the bottle. But once it’s in that bottle, boy does it taste good.