The wine making process at White Pine is fairly simple. We use small equipment and much of the work is done by hand to minimize the impact of the process on the quality of the wine. The old adage, “Fine wine is made in the vineyard”, is absolutely true. To make high quality wines we must start with completely mature, ripe, sound grapes. To achieve that goal, we grow as much of our own fruit as possible and only purchase fruit from the best area growers. The vineyard requires careful pruning and management of the vine canopy. Beginning in mid-May there are many jobs to be done to keep the shoots growing upright in the trellis, remove unwanted shoots from the vine trunks and fruit zone and to adjust the crop when necessary to be sure the quantity of fruit on the vines will fully ripen. Additionally there are sprays required to control fungal diseases of the leaves and fruit throughout the growing season. To be sure the fruit ripens properly and is free from bunch rot, we remove leaves around the fruit so it is exposed to the sun which enhances ripening.
Allowing the fruit to fully ripen requires “hang time” or time when the grapes appear ripe but the flavor, color and aroma are still developing. An extra two to three weeks of hang time during our cool fall ripening period is what creates our distinctive wines.
All of our fruit is hand harvested. That means the grapes are on still intact and on the rachis or bunch stems when we begin processing. This is really important, especially for white wines since the extraction of compounds in the grape skins begins the moment the berries are ruptured. When grapes and harvested mechanically the grapes are ruptured and skin extraction starts in the vineyard, hours before the fruit reaches the winery. That impacts the wine quality and style. By hand harvesting fruit we have complete control of skin extraction and wine style.
Once the fruit is crushed and destemmed we press white and rose’ grapes immediately. Red grapes are destemmed and crushed into ½ ton bins where the primary fermentation occurs. Fermentations are conducted with yeasts selected to enhance the aroma and character of each grape variety. Pressing occurs after optimal contact time with skins and seeds, which depends on the variety and season. Fermentations are monitored regularly for quality assurance and to be sure the fermentations are going to completion. Once all the sugar has been consumed by yeast the wines are racked, clarified and cold stabilized. The finished wines are allowed to rest during the winter months and final blends are created prior to bottling of white and rose’ wines in the spring of the year following harvest.
Red wines require more effort during fermentation to produce the desired styles. We work hard to grow color, aroma and flavor in the fruit so the goal of wine making is to extract the color, flavor and aroma and stabilize these in the wine. All of the reds go through complete malo-lactic fermentation to soften the acidity and mouthfeel. Reserve red wines are racked to barrels in December, after the previous years wines have been removed for bottling. All of the reserve reds are aged for a minimum of 12 months in French oak barrels with 25% to 30% new wood. This aging allows the tannins to soften, the color to deepen and the aroma and flavor to develop into the elegant finished wines at bottling. We complete our final blends just prior to bottling. Our reserve reds are still quite young at bottling and can continue to improve for many years. We have found that the reserve reds really start coming together around 3 years after the vintage and get better for at least another five years. We still don’t know just how long they will age as we have opened bottles from the 2010 and 2012 vintages that are still vibrant, youthful, rich and robust.
I hope that sharing some details about our wine making process will help you better understand and enjoy our wines!