It’s grape harvesting time in the upper Midwest. Vines of marquette, frontenac, and other cold climate grape varieties are hitting target sugar levels and their fruit is being hauled into wineries by the truckload.
The Growler wanted to get up close and personal with the wine harvest this year. Aaron Schram (above) of Schram Vineyards invited the crew out to his Waconia vineyard, gave us some beer, armed us with pruning shears, and put us to work. Schram and his wife Ashley have six acres under vine, which accounts for about 20% of the grapes they ferment. Another 60% come from various other Minnesota growers, with 20% coming from Washington state.
Below is our step-by-step recap of how grapes go from vine to wine.
These (above) are marquette grapes, with enough sugar to hit 14% potential ABV in the finished wine. Sugar content isn’t the only indicator of ripeness, however, says Aaron.
“We also take measurements of pH and titratable acid from the grapes,” he explains. “Two other indicators I use are taste and, less obviously, the seeds turn brown when they ripen. Rain and potential future heat days have an impact on when to harvest dates as well, as too much rain can ruin grapes.”
Once harvested, grapes are usually then tossed into the above-pictured crusher and de-stemmer machine. “The machine first takes the grapes off of the stem, and two rollers will pop the grape before it drops into the bin,” Aaron says.
“In some cases you want to remove the crusher part and just de-stem or even skip that whole step—that process is called ‘whole cluster pressing’ and sometimes is a method used for a particular variety and style of wine,” says Schram.
“Carbonic maceration, or whole cluster fermenting (above), is used when you want to really bring the fruit characteristics out in a wine and certain varieties like Sabrevois really lend themselves to that style of fermentation. You end up with a very fruity style and our Barnstormer wine is one which these grapes are used to bring out that dynamic when blended with other grapes.”
“[The wines are then aged] anywhere from eight months for the youngest styles all the way up to two years for some of our high alcohol ports wines […] in our current cellar they are all French wine barrels.”
Aside from the bottles that make it to a handful of liquor stores in the western suburbs, the final stop for Schram’s wines before they leave the premises is their tasting room.
“We have a wide variety of styles of wine to hit a lot of different preferences—from dry reds, soft reds, dry whites, semi-sweet whites, dessert-style wine (port style), all the way to sparkling wines (Champagne style),” says Aaron. “We really are trying to introduce dry Minnesota wines to our customers which is something they are not used to. The perception we constantly are trying to overcome is that all Minnesota wines are sweet and often are of lower quality. We are introducing them to dry styles that are often barrel aged as long as California reds, we get a comment almost weekly like, wow, this is a Minnesota wine?”
The tasting room at Schram Vineyards Winery and Brewery is open Thurs-Fri 5–9pm, Sat 12–8pm, and Sun 12–6pm. In addition to wine, Schram is also a brewery and has a several of their beers on tap and available in growlers at the tasting room.
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