Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's a season of contrasts for winermakes: loads of work blended with a splash of patience

Sneaked in a phoner last Wednesday with the lovely and talented winemaker of Hauser Estate Winery, one of Pennsylvania's start-ups this year. It's a winery with as much upside as the hill it sits on, offering a stunning view of the surrounding countryside that stretches almost to the Civil War battlefield. Michelle Oakes was looking forward to maybe her first day off in three weeks this past Saturday. Hey, it gets that way September through November, so you can't be in the business and gripe about it. "Well, you can complain, but nobody wants to hear it anymore," she said, breaking into a laugh.

Any break she got on the weekend was going to be short-lived, with Merlot grapes arriving Sunday to be processed. Once a field for apples in Adams County, west of Gettysburg, now supports vines bearing, among others, Vidal and Chambourcin grapes. Fall is the transition season for wineries, with juice in the barrels and tanks getting bottled to make room for the new grapes either coming in from the field or other suppliers.

Oakes said she was expecting to do a lot of bottling over the coming week: Pinot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. "Those will probably sit in the bottle a couple of months before I release them," she said. "I'd like to release them before Christmas," but it depends on how much they settle after undergoing the jarring process of being transferred from where they've been sitting for a good part of the past year.

At the same time she's nurturing the reserve reds that will age some more before seeing the light of day. We tasted several -- the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Meritage -- when we stopped last March during Tour de Tanks. They were yummy then. So how does Oakes keep from just emptying the barrels and getting those out, too?

She starting laughing. "It's the one thing in the world that I'm patient about," she said. "No one would ever tell you I'm a patient person, but I'm patient with wine. That's about it. I'm sure other people would tell you they wished I were more patient about other things."

It's too crazy now, frankly, to do anything with them, with all the other requirements of the job, including an occasional blog entry on the Hauser Estate site. By January, she said, they'd probably be ready to bottle, with this winery's first full line of reserved wines ready by Tour de Tanks in March 2010 or maybe a few weeks afterward.

So how will she know when they're ready to sell?

"You really don't," she responded. "When I say they'll be released, it me being optimistic." She noted that the Reserve Chardonnay was bottled a month ago and that ideally it would be ready for the holiday season. She related a recent conversation she had with her boss. "My boss was asking me, 'oh, well, we'll have it for Christmas hopefully?' [I said] I want to have it for Thanksgiving, but it all depends on what it does in bottle. I said all I can do is walk by it and inspire it that it wants to be turkey wine, but beyond that I have no control. The power of positive thinking. Some things just react to bottling differently than others and you never really know how it will be, how long it will take to come back together in bottle."

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