Good evening to you, and a very happy autumn greeting from all of us at Flying Leap. The pace of activity right now is simply feverish, as we progress in all of our vineyard/agricultural and winemaking activities. It is truly an extraordinary time to be part of Arizona’s rapidly expanding wine industry, and all of us enjoy keeping you informed of all we’re up to. The last time we blogged, we went into some basic nuts & bolts regarding how we produce wine. In its most basic form, wine is simply fermented grape juice. “Fermentation” is the process of yeast turning sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s really that simple.
— 2012’s Vintage is In the Barrel —
At Flying Leap’s vineyards, winegrapes are harvested by hand, sorted and de-stemmed with a large machine at the winery called a “destemmer”, which pulls the individual berries from the stems and gently breaks the skins so that the juice can ooze out. I’ve attached a picture titled, “FLV_2012_Sangiovese.JPG”, showing our small 2012 Block 1 Sangiovese harvest in progress, which we picked last week. After harvesting, the grapes are trucked to Kent’s winery in Elgin, Arizona, where the process of turning them into wine begins.
After washing and de-stemming, the berries are loaded into large, open bins called “Macros”, which are food-grade boxes we use to ferment the fruit outdoors. In 2012, we are producing two red wines and one white: Grenache, Graciano and a delicious, fruity white wine from Verdelho. We have some great pictures of the Grenache and Graciano fermenting, which show the striking difference in color between the two grape varietals. The first picture, titled “Fermenting Grenache.JPG” shows the 2012 Grenache at the end of its multi-week fermentation cycle. There are some bubbles left, which are CO2 venting to the atmosphere, and you can see the red liquid and the spent berries. This reddish-colored liquid is the actual wine in its most earthy form. At this point, the sugary liquid that started at about 26% sugar has been converted through the natural action of yeast into a red wine ‘must’ of about 1% sugar concentration. Said differently, about 96% of the original sugar has been ‘eaten’ by the yeast, and there remains only about 4% of the sugar in the raw, unfiltered and unrefined wine.
Take a close look at the photo of the fermenting Grenache, and notice how light in color it is. We use a much darker grape called Graciano – a Spanish varietal that grows extremely well in Arizona to produce a darker wine. I’ve attached a great picture of a bin-full of our 2012 Graciano fermenting on its skins (see Fermenting Graciano.JPG, attached), and you can see the significantly darker hue of the Graciano as compared to the Grenache. This rich, full-bodied and much darker red wine gives us some great blending options, and we can darken up our Grenache by mixing in some of this darker Graciano, as well as balance the flavors to create a unique wine with great fruit-forward appeal.
The small crop of Sangiovese we harvested from Block 1 was de-stemmed and crushed last week, and it’s been fermenting ever since. When the sugar is really high (i.e. at the beginning), the fermentation action is quite violent, with a lot of bubbles, foam and rolling liquid as the yeast goes whacko on the sugary grape juice liquor. I’ve attached a picture, titled “Sangiovese_Fermentation Begins.JPG” which shows our Block 1 fruit in the middle of its fermentation conversion from crushed fruit to raw, unfiltered wine – notice the bubbles and foam.
Once fermentation is complete, the now-calmed down grape liquor, which is referred to at this point as “must” is fed into a pressing device called a “bladder press”, which squeezes the mixture and presses out all the wine from the skins. The fresh unfiltered wine flows through a screen and collects in the curved bottom of the device, as shown in the picture I’ve attached titled “Freshly Pressed 2012 Grenache.JPG”. The bubbles you see on the surface of the wine in this picture are from the drips from the press. This fresh wine is pumped off into stainless steel settling tanks and left for a few days to let the heavy, suspended solids sink to the bottom.
Once the wine has settled and cleared, it is pumped from the stainless steel settling tanks off into oak barrels for a long, slow period of barrel aging. See the attached picture titled “2012 Graciano on Hungarian Oak.JPG”, which shows two of our several oak puncheons filled with our 2012 Graciano wine. Each puncheon is huge, with the capacity to hold 150 cases of wine. Next (typically) comes the malolactic fermentation. MLF takes place after the primary fermentation where the grape sugars are almost fully consumed by yeast (fermentations almost always have some residual sugar but when a wine is “dry” this RS is negligible). This “secondary” fermentation happens when naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria change the malic acid natural in the grapes/must/wine to lactic acid. This happens by itself over time and is a one of the ways a wine “mellows” with age since malic acid is more acidic than lactic acid. If it doesn’t happen naturally or it is slow to happen the MLF can be “jump started” through inoculation by a lactic acid bacteria added to the wine. The winemaker can choose whether she wants this to occur (controlling temperature, sterile filtration). In cooler climates where sugars are lower and acids are higher a winemaker might want this to happen every year in order to reduce a wine’s acidity or greener elements such as grass or green-apple. In warmer climates the opposite is true and the winemaker might want to arrest the MLF for the opposite reason. Typically however we want it to happen because it makes the wine more stable, age-worthy, smoother and reduces the chances that it could happen in the bottle – which would be very bad! If you’ve ever had a fizzy wine that tasted a little off, you’ve probably seen the effects of a MLF that happened in the bottle after it’s been sealed.
— Vineyard Activity –
As the Fall begins, we are turning our focus to vineyard construction and maintenance. We are doing a wide variety of tasks out there right now, including the following:
- Construction of vine foliage wire network on trellis
- Irrigation system repair & preventative maintenance
- Site preparation for new multi-level barn and finished wine storage facility
- Vineyard road & interior access improvements – gravel, drainage
- Installation of new power and septic systems
- Numerous improvements including farm signage & decorative lighting
- Interior cleaning & bagasse removal (clipped, dried vine debris)
- Winter weed control preparations
- Winter vine pruning
- Dormancy period vine nutrient applications & soil amendments
Ah, the joy of being in the farming business. Bottom line – we are working to build an attractive, inviting vineyard where we can give quality, in-depth tours and do on-site tastings of our wines. We are nurturing our vines with careful, scientific applications of proper nutrients and soil improvements to make sure that our vines produce the high quality fruit, properly balanced with sugar & acidity, that is necessary to bring our customers incredible, premium Arizona wine.
So, to finish this blog we’ve attached a few recent pictures of activity out at our Cochise county, Arizona farms. If you’ve never had a chance to see the serene, incredible beauty of this remote part of the American southwest, by all means call us and schedule a tour on any weekend by calling (520) 954-2935 or writing to set up an appointment. We give a lot of tours out at the farm, and we enjoy showing how we grow wine in this part of the country.
That’s a rap …
We hope you enjoy keeping in the loop of our progress. The amount of labor involved in a wine business is simple astounding, but the degree of satisfaction is worth every drop of sweat. Arizona has an incredible wine industry, and we are blessed with 350 days of sunshine per year, rich, fertile soil and a thirsty market. Our 2011 vintage is nearly ready to release. It is very patiently bottle conditioning at the winery, and we have our distribution channels all ready to bring the 2011 Grenache and Graciano to the market in time for the holidays (see “2011 Vintage Ready to Go.JPG”, attached). These wines are amazing, and Kent Callaghan crafted them wonderfully.
Until then, “cheers” from all of us at Flying Leap Vineyards. Adios, and via con dios from all of us here in the heart of the American southwest.