Happy New Year to all: We start another year of grape-growing and wine-making in the Finger Lakes. At this point, grape growers are hoping for the best: a mild winter, a nice, warm, frost-free spring, a hot and dry summer with just enough rain for the vines, and a warm, dry fall for harvesting. I guess growers are dreamers, because that scenario hardly ever happens, but you can’t blame us for wishing. Actually, December wasn’t a bad month, with moderate temperatures, some snow and rain, but nothing extreme. We finally got all the graft unions covered in the vineyard. However, November could be a problem for the upcoming 2019 crop: you may remember that we experienced a really cold incident the morning after Thanksgiving. Temperatures in many areas dropped to about 1 degree Fahrenheit. Our Fosterville vineyard hit 1 degree on that Friday morning. Our weather station is about 6 feet above the vineyard floor, and since there was almost no wind that morning, the vines near the ground could have been a few degrees colder! Yikes, 0 degrees in November! Grapevines go into dormancy in the mid-fall time frame and gradually adapt to the colder temperatures and maybe reach their peak winter hardiness in late January. This late November extreme cold snap therefore might have damaged some of the buds since they were not yet prepared for mid-winter temperatures. Before we start pruning in March, we will examine the buds to determine damage and then prune accordingly. Time will tell.
The holiday season was very busy in the winery. Early in December we saw a fair number of travelers, then as the holidays approached, local folks stopped in. With the cold outdoor temperatures, this is the time we cold-stabilize our 2018 wines. Grapes contain tartaric acid that is suspended in the wine solution; when you lower the wine temperature to about 28 degrees the acid crystallizes and drops out of the solution. The wine crystals, sometimes called wine diamonds, are natural and not harmful, but cosmetically, customers may not want to see them in the bottom of the wine bottle. Bigger wineries have temperature-controlled tanks to allow them to precipitate out the crystals. At our winery, we put the wine tanks into a small barn that is insulated and let Mother Nature do the cooling. We monitor the temperature so it doesn’t get too cold and heat up the barn if necessary. Then, after several weeks, the wine is racked back into the winery and the tartrate crystals are in the bottom of the outdoor tanks. This process also reduces the acidity in wines, making them a little softer on the palate. The leftover crystals are actually “cream of tartar,” the same as you might use in cooking!
Lots of Finger Lakes wineries are open throughout the winter. We at CJS Vineyards are open by appointment from January through the end of March and resume weekend tastings in April. So there is still plenty of opportunity to taste Finger Lakes wines this winter season. During this down period we do our annual government paperwork and reporting (fortunately, small wineries can report annually, while larger operations must report monthly). Our federal excise tax payments and operations reports are filed with the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau. This reporting includes wines produced both in bulk and in bottles, wine sold and grapes used. Excise tax is based upon alcohol content. Wines less than 14 percent alcohol by volume are taxed at $1.07 per gallon with a 90-cent credit for small producers. New York state also collects excise tax on wine of approximately 30 cents per gallon, or 5 cents a bottle, on wines less than 24 percent alcohol by volume.