50 West Vineyards grounds itself in its location on Historic US Route 50 and the highway’s tie to Virginia History. The highway, itself, was created in 1926 but the history of the land can be traced back even further to the battle of Aldie and surround battles of the American Civil War.
On May 18th of 1863, General Robert E Lee defeated Union armies in the Battle of Chancellorsville in a major victory for the Confederate army. After fighting for nearly 2 years, Lee’s soldiers were in need of supplies. They moved north through the Shenandoah Valley where Lee strategically sent his general to set up blockades around all of the major mountain gaps to screen Union movement including Ashby Gap and Snickersville Turnpike. At the same time, the Union general was advancing to Aldie, Virginia to catch up to Lee.
The Armies made a stand on the exact hill where 50 West Vineyards is located today. There was nearly 4 hours of bloody fighting that ensued. The battles that took place along the Ashby Gap and Snickerville Turnpike delayed Union soldiers long enough to stop them from advancing into Loudon County and finding Lee’s army.
One of the main mountain passes in early Virginia Was a wind gap called Ashby(s) Gap. Its located where Fauquier county, Clark County, and Loudon County meet. The Gap reached an altitude of 1000+ feet. Before the Civil, the gap was known to the Native Americans as a trail for tavel between regions and used by the Europeans as a toll road to connect the Piedmont to the Blue Ridge. It was known as the “Upper Thoroughfare of the Blue Ridge” Until it was given the name “Ashby” after Thomas Ashby, who owned land on the east side of the gap and was a major factor in settling Paris, Virginia. During the Civil War Ashby Gap, along with other mountain passes, played a key role in the strategy of battle and benefited those who knew the land and its rolling hills.
The Battle of Aldie was a key battle in the aftermath of Chancellorsville and the confederacy’s desperation for supplies from up north. The Union sought out Robert E Lee’s Troops by attempting to advance through Aldie Virginia through Loudon County and to the mountain passes that connected the Blue Ridge to the Piedmont Region. Robert E. Lee sent his top general and troops to Aldie as a response to Union and successfully stopped them from reaching Lee.
The reason behind the lack of height across the Blue Ridge mountains is due to its age! While most people find the rolling hills to be nothing substantial in height in comparison to the peaks of the Rockies or the Plateaus of Montana, the mountains that span across the East Coast and through-out Virginia are some of the oldest mountains on Earth! They have weathered down over time from taller than the Rockies and sit alongside the Alps in age. If you give the Rockies another 400 million years they will look similiar!
Next Saturday and Sunday 50 West Vineyards will be having our Valentine’s Day Wine and Truffle Pairing. For those that have tickets to the event, there will be three different truffles that you will be trying which we believe will be a perfect accompaniment.
The first will be milk chocolate truffles that will be paired with our 2019 Albariño which will complement this crisp white with the perfect combination of sweetness and richness. Second, our 2019 Sunset Rose will be paired with white chocolate raspberry truffles. The flavors of juicy red fruit from this wine will go very well with the intense sweetness of the white chocolate, along with the hint of tartness thanks to the raspberry. Finally, rich dark chocolate truffles will be paired with our 2012 Petit Verdot. The bold dry flavors of this red wine will be a great compliment to the deep rich flavor of the dark chocolate.
For those that are just coming in to visit our tasting room next weekend, you will have the opportunity to have red velvet cheesecake brownie bites! Each tasty treat will be hand-prepared by myself, and I can’t wait for you to try them.
While I can’t divulge all of my secrets, I can provide the methods for how I made the Dark Chocolate Truffles and the Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownie bites.
This recipe is something that is great to make at home, and it does not require many ingredients! All that is required is simply good dark chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and vanilla extract. There is very little actual cooking so anybody can become a master of this recipe.
- The recipe I am providing will make 10-12 truffles -
1 four-ounce dark chocolate bar (I used 60% Ghiradelli chocolate)
⅓ cup of heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons of unsalted butter (I like it to be at room temperature)
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
Step 1: Finely chop the dark chocolate and place it in a heat proof bowl to set aside.
Step 2: Place the heavy cream in a small saucepan until it simmers! Make sure to put the burner on medium heat.
Step 3: Add the butter and vanilla extract to the chocolate, and then pour the simmering cream on top of the chocolate. Let it sit for 5 minutes!
Step 4: Once the chocolate is completely melted, stir everything together and then place plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to let the truffle mixture set.
Step 5: Take the mixture out of the fridge and use a spoon or small ice cream scoop to form into balls. (To ensure the chocolate gets off the spoon, coat your scoop or spoon with a little oil)
Step 6: Enjoy this rich and indulgent truffle!
- These truffles will be good in the fridge for about two weeks. -
Love brownies? Love red velvet cake? Love cheesecake? Of course you do, and this recipe is the greatest hits of all of those! Again, this recipe involves very little prep work, although make sure you have a muffin tin to get the desired shape of the bite.
- This recipe will make 15 mini bites -
4 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
½ cup of sugar
⅛ cup of cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ tablespoon of red food coloring to get the distinct Red Velvet look
¼ teaspoon of white vinegar
Pinch of salt
½ cup of flour
For the cheesecake filling:
4 oz of softened cream cheese
1 ½ tablespoons of sugar
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ of one egg yolk
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease your muffin pan.
Step 2: In a mixing bowl, combine the melted butter sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, food coloring, vinegar and salt. (I prefer to hand mix it but you are welcome to use mechanical mixer)
Step 3: Add the eggs to the mix, stir, and then add the flour, stir again until everything is fully incorporated. This will be your brownie batter.
Step 4: Utilizing a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (the one that looks like a triangle) mix the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until combined. Once combined put into a piping bag or a plastic sandwich bag that has one of the corners cut off (This is what I used)
Step 5: Using a ice cream scoop or spoon, place a tablespoon size of the brownie batter mixture into the muffin pan, and pipe about one teaspoon of the cheesecake filling on the brownie batter.
Step 6: Once you run out of mixture or have 15 brownie bites, place into the oven and bake for 12 minutes exactly.
Step 7: Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the tin
Step 8: Enjoy!
- These brownie bites will be best for one week at room temperature. -
I can’t wait for you to make each of these recipes in your own home, and to try the milk chocolate and white chocolate raspberry truffles next weekend!
50 West Vineyards will be introducing our newest versions of the Aldie Heights Cuvée for the
general public this week! While the 2016 Cuvée has been a staple red wine here at 50 West,
have no fear the 2017 is also an exceptional blend and much like our 2016 still encompasses the
boldness of the aging tannat – a varietal that has both high acidity and high tannin.
Following along in the 2016 Aldie Heights’ footsteps, the Aldie Heights 2017 showcases grapes
from both our sister winery Sunset Hills Vineyard #3 and Shenandoah Springs.
Along with this heavily-tannat oriented blend, the 2017 Cuée also includes 33% Petit Verdot
and 17% Merlot, which shows itself more in its soft and slightly fruity finish.
It has earthier notes of violet, cigar box, rose, new leather, fresh blackberry, and light roasted
coffee.The complexity of this wine can be paired beautifully with a lean cut of steak and a red wine
reduction and roasted cauliflower.
Come have a glass in the tasting room and tell us what you think or take a bottle home to age
The Piedmont is a new white blend wine for 50 West Vineyards that we are really excited to release! I was also really excited to pair this wine with dinner because of the bright flavors and juicy aromas! The Piedmont is blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petit Manseng. Containing vibrant citrus notes, a dash of honey, and a hint of hay. I wanted to play on the acidity in the wine, so for dinner I made Chicken Piccata. A lemon chicken with capers in a creamy sauce a top whole grain linguine (in my attempt to be somewhat healthy). I pan seared my chicken breast for about 5 minutes on each side then set aside. I then added chicken broth, some dry white wine, 4 cloves of garlic, thyme, capers, juice from 2 lemons, and heavy cream. I let that simmer for about 5 minutes, then I added the chicken back to the pan to let the flavors come together while my pasta boiled. I strained my pasta then tossed it with a little olive oil, plated and served with a glass of 50 West Piedmont. The citrus from the chicken and the hint of cream in the sauce was the perfect flavor to compliment the new Chardonnay dominant blend.
2 large chicken breasts
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup parmesan
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup chicken both
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp capers, drained
Juice from 2 lemons
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley (garnish)
Lemon wedges (garnish)
Cut breast into 4 cutlets, lightly pound each cutlet until about ½ inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish or bowl and season with ¼ cup parmesan, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder. Toss and coat chicken in flour mixture, one at a time, knocking off the excess flour.
Heat 2 tbsp oil and 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet on medium high. Place 2 cutlets in a time to avoid crowding. Brown the chicken until deep brown, about 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2-3 mins. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add garlic and remaining oil and butter to the pan, stir constantly until garlic is fragrant and slight golden brown about 2 mins. Add wine, chicken stock, capers, thyme, bring to a boil and add heavy cream. Reduce to a simmer and stir until sauce becomes thick. Add lemon juice and stir. Add chicken back to pan and coat chicken in sauce for about 2 mins. Serve over pasta or rice with a lemon wedge and fresh parsley.
The new 50 West Rose is bursting with flavor. This Sangiovese blend is starts off with notes of strawberry, grapefruit, and watermelon. Its light and refreshing and can pretty much be paired with just about any appetizer, charcuterie board, and of course, pizza. If you were at the last 50 West Club party, then you probably tried one of my flatbreads. If you missed it, don’t worry! I’m going to share my favorite flatbread recipe from the party! Its surprising just how easy, simple, and flavorful it is! I normally like to make my own flatbread dough, but since the stores are out of yeast, I searched high and low for a premade flatbread. I couldn’t find any naan, but I did find a flatbread called “Brooklyn Bred”. I brushed some olive oil on the crust and sprinkled a little oregano and some minced garlic. I broke open a burrata and crumbled it upon the crust, then added a little shredded mozzarella and shaved Parmesan. I popped the pizza in the oven for about 5-7 minutes then once the cheese was melted and bubbling, I added some sliced prosciutto and baked for another 5-7 minutes or until the prosciutto was slightly crispy. In a small bowl, I tossed a handful of arugula with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I topped with pizza with the arugula mix, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a heavy drizzle of balsamic glaze. The creamy burrata, salty prosciutto, tangy yet peppery arugula, and a hint of sweet from the glaze was the perfect companion for the dry and fruit forward rose. Of course this wine is perfectly fine on its own, but with a simple pizza, it shines!
1 flatbread or pizza dough
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
4-6 oz prosciutto
1/2 cup arugula
1/2 cup Parmesan shredded or shaved
1/2 cup mozzarella (fresh or shredded)
2 tbsp balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp Oregano
Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly brush crust with olive oil, add minced garlic, and a sprinkle of oregano. Break open the burrata with a knife and crumble the cheese onto the crust. Add Parmesan and mozzarella and bake for 5-7 mins (until cheese has melted). Add prosciutto, bake for another 5-7 mins. In a small bowl add arugula, 1 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss til well coated. Remove from oven, add arugula mix, sprinkle red pepper flakes, drizzle with balsamic glaze. Enjoy!
You can order these wines online by CLICKING HERE. Bring home 100% Virginia wine from the sister to the Best Winery in Loudoun. Our wines are available via two safe and easy ways; Barn Side pickup Thursdays through Mondays 11 to 5 PM at Sunset Hills, or visit us Saturday and Sunday at 50 West from 12-5. You may also ship your wine directly to your door with UPS! Be sure to tag us on Facebook or Instagram if you try out these recipes and pairings or even just to show us how you are enjoying these wines! Cheers!
Greetings from 50 West Vineyards and our sister winery, Sunset Hills Vineyard. In this era of social distancing and staying home; our team wanted to share some of our favorite Sunset Hills Vineyard and 50 West Vineyards pairings that you can prepare in your kitchen at home and enjoy alongside your favorite bottle of wine from our amazing award-winning Virginia wineries.
We are very excited to share that our Sunset Hills Vineyard was recently named the BEST WINERY IN LOUDOUN by the readers of the prestigious and long-standing newspaper, Loudoun Times Mirror, and we are especially excited to proudly provide you with some delicious pairings and recipes from our Executive Chef to pair with the award winning wines that we hope you will enjoy with your family.
The wines we have selected are part of our 50% off - Spring Case Sale offerings from 50 West – Vidal Blanc, Aldie Heights Cuvee and Dusk. Our barn-side pick up is available Thursday – Sunday 12pm – 5pm at Sunset Hills Vineyards in Purcellville, VA which is a lovely drive for one person in your family to make! We are also offering free shipping for orders including 3 or more bottles at this time!
We would love to see how you do with these, so please let us know about your successes with these recipes and pairings by posting on social media and sending us your videos and photos.
As always, we appreciate your support, especially during these uncertain times. Our teams are working hard to be available as much as we can be and to offer options so that you can experience your favorite Loudoun County and Virginia Wines in the comfort and safety of your home!
It’s safe to say that we are all looking forward to warmer days of being together on our properties, enjoying plenty of sunshine and a nice cold glass of a crisp and refreshing white wine on our 50 West patios. My “go-to wine” when summertime is right around the corner, is our Vidal Blanc. Its dry, light, and surprisingly tropical.
We all know Virginia can have some extremely warm summers, so my little tip to our guests is to take a couple pieces of frozen peaches or pineapple and drop in your glass to keep your wine chilled. With that in mind, I came up with an easy recipe for our Vidal blanc and all that frozen fruit I stocked up on. While intending to make healthy smoothies during our quarantine, I found a much better way to enjoy my favorite wine, favorite fruit and dreaming that I am in an Adirondack chair overlooking the vineyard…. feeling a warm summer breeze.
Vidal Blanc Slushies
1 ½ cups frozen peaches
1 ½ cups frozen pineapple
2 ½ cups Vidal blanc (or just go ahead and pour the whole bottle, no one is watching)
Simple syrup (optional)*
Blend and enjoy!
For simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Mix on low heat. Once sugar has dissolved, bring to a boil, cook until slightly thickened, transfer to mason jar or heat resistant (airtight) container and store in fridge for up to 1 month.
Searching in my freezer for last night’s dinner, I came across a pork tenderloin and some French green beans from my garden. I also found a bottle of Aldie Heights Cuvee from 50 West Winery opened 2 days prior sitting on my counter going to waste. Luckily there was about a cup and a half left in the bottle, so I decided to marinate the tenderloin with 1 cup of Cuvee, minced garlic, smoked paprika, onion powder, and a 14 spice blend that I found in the international isle that has everything you need for a rub or marinade. Once my pork was marinated for about 2 hours, I heated the grill to 400° and cooked the loin for around 20 mins (until internal temp was at 145°). While the pork was grilling, I melted 4 tablespoons of butter, added minced garlic, the rest of the wine and about a ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar. I basted the loin every 5 minutes with the butter/vinegar/wine mixture, which gave the pork a smokey flavor, and the butter coated the loin just enough to create a nice char. Once the pork was at the perfect temp, I removed it from the heat and let stand for about 5 minutes. I sliced the pork into 1-inch medallions and served them with hand whipped mashed potatoes and green beans from last year’s harvest. Sometimes a good meal could be hiding in your freezer and the wine you sometimes can’t finish can become the perfect marinade.
Cuvee Pork Tenderloin
1 lb. pork tenderloin
1 ½ cup red wine
4 cloves garlic (minced)
4 tbls butter
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp onion powder
2 tbls 14 spice blend *
For the marinade: Mix 1 cup red wine, 2 cloves minced garlic, and spices
Coat loin with marinade and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Heat Grill to 400°, reduce heat to medium and place loin on grill. Melt 4 tbls of butter add remaining garlic, vinegar, and red wine. Baste loin every 5 mins turning often. Once pork reaches internal temp of 145° remove from heat and let sit for 5-10 mins. Slice and serve with your favorite side.
*Badia 14 Spices all-purpose seasoning
One thing I love about Sunset Hills Vineyards Dusk is that it is not thick, syrupy, or overly sweet. The Dusk has a great balance of sweetness and acidity and is surprisingly smooth. Ports are normally considered after dinner wines, or often served with dessert. However, I think our Dusk is very versatile and not only can it be paired with chocolate or apple pie, but it also compliments a stinky salty cheese, such as stilton or blue cheese. I’m personally not a big fan of blue cheese, but I am a fan of mozzarella. If you’ve had our burrata, then you already know it comes with a balsamic glaze. What you might not know, is that I make the glaze with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and the Dusk. It is quite simple and easy to make. I use equal parts balsamic vinegar, Dusk, and ½ part brown sugar. I bring all the ingredients to a boil, then reduce the temperature to a simmer until the mixture is reduced by half. I let it come to room temperature and transfer it to an airtight container. The great thing about the reduction/glaze is that it can last for up to 3 months if stored in the fridge. The glaze can be used with just about anything, but my favorite thing to use the glaze with is a caprese salad. Fresh mozzarella, thick sliced tomato, a big leaf of basil, and a drizzle of the balsamic Dusk glaze, and viola!
Dusk Balsamic Glaze
2 cups balsamic glaze
1 bottle of Sunset Hills Vineyards Dusk
1 cup brown sugar*
In a large saucepan, add all ingredients, stir well to dissolve the brown sugar, then bring to a boil. Once at a steady boil reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture has reduce by half (about 30-40 mins). Once the mixture coats the back of a spoon, remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Store in an airtight container in fridge for up to 3 months.
*Brown sugar can be substituted for honey, maple syrup, or white sugar.
*Note: Vinegar may give off strong aromatics, so use ventilation when simmering
As you all have most likely heard, the 2019 harvest and season are looking pretty amazing—a historic harvest that will be talked about like the 2010 vintage wines. This month, as we “wine’d” down from harvest, We want to use this blog to herald our team here at Sunset Hills Vineyard. As a vineyard guest, you hear from us individually, whether it is on a tour with Bridgette, at a club party with Sydney, or behind the bar with Audrey – but there are so many other wonderful, hard-working wine and farm enthusiasts here at the winery that perhaps go unnoticed.
Sunset Hills and 50 West could not exist without them. There would literally be no vineyard, no wine, no tasting room. We play host to a full-time crew of five (5) people. Their work week is dedicated to our vineyards rain or shine, freezing temps or scorching sun. The vineyard crew of 5 do everything; from mowing the grass to flipping cases for ten hour bottling days, and everything they do for the winery, they do with great effort and pride. They may ask for a soda or request pizza instead of brats for lunch, but they do the hard work day in and day out so that our business can create a the incredible wines that we are then able to share with all of you.
Our vineyard crew is joined for 8 months out of the year by a team of eight that joins us from the Baja California Peninsula. This hard working team is keen on learning new ideas and perfecting our processes. Take Joel for example, who has worked with us in the cellar for harvest. Joel is the type of friend that everyone needs—he always has a smile on his face and a quiet yet witty joke ready for you. He asks for clarification when he feels like he needs to, and he takes initiative to do the next task with no hesitation. Joel has learned to speak slowly so that we can communicate both on cellar actions for the day or a casual conversation about our families over the sorting table. We have a goal that he teaches us one Spanish word every day – we learn, we grow and we create together.
The Tasting Room, for those who don’t know… IS SO EXHAUSTING. Harvest is one of the most tiring yet exciting times of the year for me. We joke that “every day is Wednesday” because there is no sense of a weekend, no tracking of days of the week other than to ask “what day are we picking?” Although tiring, nothing compares to a busy Saturday behind the tasting room bar. The day begins with a morning meeting where our teams prep the staff by communicating the weekend events, big groups, or special occasions that are taking place at the winery. Everyone is listening, quiet, the calm before the storm. And then… THE DAY….
Finally, at closing, the floors are vacuumed to perfection, bathrooms are spotless, bar is wiped down—we can all relax with a beautiful glass of wine on the porch as the sun sets behind the tree-line. Yes we share stories from the day, but we have interesting conversations about all things other than wine.
Our weekday staff is the glue that holds it all together. We support each other, listen to plans, pitch ideas, lend a hand. We work to make our dreams come true, as a small business we know that we all have each other’s backs; there is no line drawn between jobs. Just because my title is winemaker does not mean that I can’t help stock the tasting room or cut the grass every now and then. Helping each other out is just skimming the surface. We are a true family here at Sunset Hills. Sunset Hills is not just a vineyard, a winery, a place to spend a Saturday, it is a place where talented, driven people work to make this lovely, inspiring, beautiful place run the way it does. From the vineyard to the tasting room to the management team, we all look out for each other in a way I hope continues in years to come.
At the time of writing this, the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon to pick is scheduled for Friday. I am listening to the hum of the press squeeze Shenandoah Springs Cabernet Franc. Barrels will be filled tomorrow and stacked in the cool cellar. Another vintage ends, but our staff keeps it alive as the bottles come into the tasting room to share with each other and our wonderful members, clients and customers. We all look forward to having a bit of free time now that our epic 2019 harvest is complete, but we are happy to be surrounded by the team and our family here at Sunset Hills and 50 West.
Bottling day – it’s exciting, stressful, and fast-paced. As the first wines of the 2017 vintage are completed, our team toasts each other with a glass of bubbly in celebration of coming full circle on the first vintage together. We looked back at harvest and laughed at how many lugs of fruit it took to make the 800 cases of Sunset White we just bottled (It was about 800 lugs). We thought of all the time spent tracking fermentations, moving wine from tank to barrel, and of course cleaning equipment - all that time spent just to get to the finish line of bottling day. Even the weeks leading up to bottling day are a frenzy of blending, stabilizing, and filtering. Finally, bottling day arrives. We bottled 1,807 total cases, that’s 21,684 bottles!
It’s a long day and it starts early. A typical day of bottling looks like this:
6:00am: The truck arrives while the sun just barely begins to glow. Coffee in hand, hazy from the morning darkness, I pep up as the generator spurs the bottling truck to life.
6:01am: Full on bottling mode has taken hold of me.
6:02--6:45am: The bottling guys do a test run with a case of bottles, corks, capsules, and labels to calibrate their machines.
6:45am: The rest of the cellar crew arrives and more coffee is a necessity. The first tank is connected to the bottling truck and bottling begins!
7:00am--4:30pm: Unload, fill, reload, stack. Repeat 1,807 more times.
4:30--5:00pm: Clean up time.
The people: We have five positions on the bottling line.
First is the forklift operator. They’re the person that makes sure everyone has what they need, when they need it, where they need it. He supplies the empty cases that are loaded on the truck. He takes the palettes of full cases and stacks them away in the barrel room.
Second is the glass unloader. This person stands on the truck, takes the cases of empty bottles, flips them onto the bottling line’s conveyor, lifts the box off of the upright bottles, and watches as the bottles get taken away further into the abyss of the bottling line.
Third is the box filler. This person also stands on the truck. He is the final check of the full bottles. Labels are straight? Check. Bottles are corked and capsuled? Check. There is actually wine in the bottle? Check. The completed bottles are then placed back into the cases and sent down another conveyor.
The fourth and fifth person stand at the end of this conveyor to receive the full cases. They trade places labeling and stacking the cases.
The in between: So where does the actual bottling take place? Once the glass unloader sends the empty bottles onto the truck, that is where all the action happens. The bottles get flipped upside down and filled with nitrogen to protect against oxidation. The bottles are then circled around in merry-go-round like fashion and filled to the correct level. Next, they get the screw caps spun on. The last step is labeling--the front and back label are adjusted by the slightest millimeters and put on the bottle. Finally, the long conveyor takes the bottles around the back of the machine where they leave the truck and are placed safely back into their case.
Although stressful, bottling day is a relief. We are happy to see our product completed, our hard work paid off. Now we can enjoy the finished product and look forward to the next bottling in May!
In the last post, I explained what is going on in the cellar in these cold winter months. I want to delve deeper into a topic that I briefly touched on. Malolactic fermentation is a process that I get a lot of questions about--not only what is it, but what effect does it have on a wine’s profile and misinterpretations of the effects of this process.
*MLF is short for malolactic fermentation
Let’s start with a few facts:
Let’s keep going with a few “usually” statements:
How do we track MLF?
We try to track MLF on a weekly basis. There are two methods we use here at Sunset Hills/50 West. First is chromotography. After taking samples of barrels we want to test, we use a tiny capillary tube to drop the sample on the bottom of the paper. We then roll the paper up and place it in a solvent that over the course of several hours, will travel up the paper. Then we pull the paper out, let it dry, and can read the results. If all of the yellow dots have travelled to the top of the paper, we know that the level of malic acid is less than 0.2g/L. However, our goal is actually 0.02g/L! This leads us to our second method: enzymatic testing. Using our new spectrophotometer, we can get qualitative numbers.
In short, chromotography allows us to see the process of MLF is (or is not) taking place over time. The enzymatic testing gives us actual numbers to see exactly how many g/L of malic we have left. Once we get to 0.02g/L, then we can call the process complete and add sulfur to the barrels.
Peynaud, Emile. Knowing and Making Wine. Wiley, 1984.
The Basics in Grape and Wine Chemistry. Nathan J. Sikes Bl.Arch.
The cellar to-do list is still quite long: top all 350 barrels, watch malolactic fermentation trudge on, clean the residual grape matter still plastered to the sorting table, all the while preparing for the first bottling of the year. Yes, the hours have relaxed, but the work goes on.
First thing’s first--the new wine. For whites, we are focused on finishing out the last bit of residual sugar in order to catch the wine before malolactic fermentation takes off. In reds, we encourage malolactic fermentation to go through on every single barrel. Side note: Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that converts malic acid (tart) to lactic acid (creamy). Once the wines are at the appropriate stage, we will add a small amount of sulphur to each barrel. We do this in order to protect the wine from oxidation or any other bacterial growth. Afterwards, every barrel will get topped, tightly bunged, and put to bed.
Then we look backwards. The pieces for 2016 Mosaic, Reserve Cabernet Franc, and Aldie Heights Cuvee are still patiently waiting to be tasted, tested, and blended. For me, blending is one of the more “fun winemaker” tasks that my job entails. It is the romantic part--the part that my friends, family, and neighbors think I do on a regular basis. Challenges do arise though! Analyzing the differences between barrels and vigorously taking notes for every sniff, swirl, and spit. Finding the balance of structure, body, acidity, length, fruit integrity, and age-ability for each wine when you have seemingly endless options to choose from--THAT can be challenging.
While 2017 may be coming to a close, the products of this year’s harvest will be stored in the cellar patiently waiting their next step in 2018!
With this type of weather, we have the luxury to decide when to pick. Some vintages, we are checking multiple weather stations daily to see which weatherman can offer us the most optimistic forecast only to find that the 80% chance of rain causes a hurried picking spree. Luckily, after the rains that started out September were over, the forecasts have been quite pleasant. Our vines are basking in this 80--90 degree weather. Sure, we could ask for cooler nights to retain that acidity, but I will take sunshine over rain any autumn day.
Other than weather, we are walking our vineyards on a regular basis to look and taste for ripeness. As verasion hits, the fruit gets softer, more plump and sweet. As the sugar levels rise, the pH also continues to inch upwards causing the fruit to become less acidic with ripening. Balance--it is all about balance. We are looking and tasting for the balance between sugar levels and acidity, between taste, texture, and numbers.
What do I mean by numbers? When we walk the vineyards, we often take a random berry sampling of the vineyard. Every few steps, pause, grab a berry, and throw it in a bag. Up and down a few rows, and you have quite the sample! Back to the lab, we crush the fruit in the bag to get the juice in order to test the Brix (the sugar content) and pH.
As a young winemaker new to the area and to our vineyards, I hope to learn more about the nuances that each site can bring. Sometimes the picking decisions also depend on location. For example, last year we picked one of our Cabernet Franc sites in three sections--top of the hill, the slope, and the bottom of the hill. The slope, with better sun exposure than the bottom and the best drainage, gave us the most complex wine. It has a clean texture, a depth and complexity that the other sections fall just short of.
These types of picking decisions can really affect the wine. With good weather in sight, we are continuing to balance taste, chemistry, and site selection. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for harvesting updates!