The other day I had my first experience harvesting fruit to make wine at Shinn Estate Vineyards. I asked David Page and Barbara Shinn if I could come out on my day off and get to know the process of harvesting and the very early stages of winemaking. They welcomed me and put me right to work.
The day started at 7:00AM. But for me, I did not get there till 10:00am due to a transmission leak I needed to look at on my car. When I arrived, David and Anthony Nappa, Shinn Estate Vineyards winemaker, were putting Pinot Blanc into the destemer. They both looked at their watches and yelled at me for being late. But I got right into the mix of it.
This Pinot Blanc is the first time Shinn Estate Vineyards will release. It will be a barrel fermented wine. The brix, which is measurement of the dissolved sugar-to-water mass ratio of a liquid, came in at 23.8. The fruit was wonderful, I stole a few berries that bounced my way as David and I gently dropped the fruit into the destemmer. Anthony and David then used a fork lift to allow gravity to work and have the fruit fall into a wine press. The juice was then place into a stainless steel tank. From there it will go into oak barrels to ferment for a while. This was exciting and I cannot wait to taste this when it is ready, in a few years.
Barbara then came in from the vineyard and wanted to know if I wanted to join the crew harvesting the fruit from the vines. As Barbara and I walked out to where everyone was harvesting, we had a little chat about how the vineyard was doing and how things looked. We walked past the Cabernet Franc and I could not stop and look at how nicely they looked.
We got to the Sauvignon Blanc and Barbara gave me a talk about how to hand harvest, what to look for and to be very careful not to clip you fingers. When someone tells me to look out for something, I usually find it. But I did well, not one cut. But let me tell you, oh my aching back. There was this warm almost burning sensation at the small of my back…dead center even with my hip bones. Oh it hurt.
I clipped a few rows and by lunch time it was almost harvested. There were about 10-12 of us harvesting that day. It was such a beautiful day; the sun warmed the field, the smell of the juice after the bursting berries were cut from the vine. It was so wonderful to hold a cluster. If you have never held a cluster before, you really should. It is hard to explain, but imagine holding a newborn, but looking at your very first teenage crush. That is the first thing that came to my mind when I held some of the most beautiful berries. So delicate and precious, to think that this cluster will one day grow up to be a fine wine from Shinn Estate vineyards was amazing.
We took a break for lunch and David, prepared a wonderful feast. A simple Latin America dish called Picadillo. But David put a twist on it. It was made with duck meat from Crescent Farms. David also added a nice twist to it by adding beans. It was served with rice and flour tortilla. With the Mexican music playing, the food and the sun, I was in heaven. I savored every bite, wanted more, but knew that if I did, I might have to take a siesta under the vines.
We went back out after lunch and finished up the remaining block of Sauvignon Blanc. When we were done, it was now time to work the sorting line. The grapes were dropped into the destemer and we had to carefully make sure that there was no additional stems that may have gotten through. There was at least 3-4 people on each side, picking out all stems, leaves, and other particles that do not need to be in wine, and should not be there either.
While sorting we had a wonderful time trying to combat the yellow jackets that were buzzing around us. I was alot of fun swatting a bee on the back of your neck with a hand soaked in grape juice.
The Sauvignon Blanc was coming in at 23.5 brix. And the Semillon was reading 24 Brix. The yields were low, but the fruit ripe. You could see it, smell it and taste how good this fruit was.
The Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon were being left in a stainless steel tank for a while to make a beautiful blend call Haven. The current release is in the tasting room now, at $35 a bottle. There are not many cases left. Once the skins and the juice have been left to hang out with each other for more than 24 hours, maybe longer, the grapes will be pressed and fermented in oak for a while. If you have not tried Haven yet, you must taste it the next time you are out. I have, and did not take notes. It was just a wonderful lush wine that was such a pleasure to drink. This maybe the best white wine from Shinn Estate Vineyards.
We than started processing Shinn’s first desert wine, a Semillon based wine that will sit in a barrel for a few years…probably at least two years. When it comes out, get it. I have a feeling it will be one to remember. Anthony, Shinn’s winemaker, has always wanted to make a desert wine, but he wanted to make it right. I think he will nail it. You could smell the possibilities already just processing the fruit.
It was getting dark and the day was over. We all said our goodbyes and told everyone we would see each other for the red harvest. All the whites were in and it was a good day. More fruit was coming later in the week from some other local vineyards to help make some Chardonnay and Coalescence. But the good stuff was done. A framer’s hard day in the field was over and this rookie farmer, all sticky and smelling like sweet grape juice. I could not wait to take a shower.
But, David was not going to let me go yet…he first offered me a glass of some wonderful 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. How could I pass that up! David and I chatted for a bit, toasted to the day and enjoyed this wonderful wine. I have not had Cab Sauv in a while, let alone from Shinn. But it was everything that Shinn was all about. Great fruit aromatics, wonderful earthy notes, subtle green tones and a great balance that just warms you to the bones. But I am not reviewing their wine. I am just hanging out.
David and I talked for a bit about wine, Shinn, the 2007 vintage, the 2009 season, the Yankees, the North Fork, Melissa and I and everything under the sun. We looked out from his kitchen island and remarked at the beautiful sunset. I felt like I was chatting with an old friend, laughing and enjoying wine. The stuff that happens when you open a bottle of wine.
Barbara came in and asked David to whip up something quick, for the guys that were left. David was cooking up some leftover turkey meatloaf with country ham and fresh squash from the garden. He asked if I was going to stay, I politely said no. But enjoyed the continuing conversation with David and watching a great chef in the kitchen. As we continued our conversation, I was regretting my decision. It looked and smelled so good. But there would be another time and I would make sure I did not say no.
Barbara came back in and said that Anthony and the crew were going home and only Nick, a wine consultant from the city, was going to stay. David than said that I could not leave, I had to eat the meatloaf…someone up there was on my side.
We sat down and had the most wonderful turkey meatloaf in the world. The squash was cooked perfect and we had whole grain bread with toasted cheese on top. It was the most perfect, comforting food I have ever had.
The night continued, laughing, talking and enjoying the wonderful bounty that Long Island wine has to offer. As we sat around the table, listening to music, enjoy a wonderful bottle of Scarola Winery 2005 Merlot, with some wonderful chocolate, licorice, blackberry cherry notes, just hanging out talking about all kinds of things, I felt like I was again hanging out with old friend, I felt like I knew them forever, much longer than I really have known them. The conversation was great, the laughs were real and the only thing missing was Melissa.
This was a day I will always remember. For the learning experience, the opportunity and for the relationship was grew even stronger.