The team at Newport Vineyards is excited to be in harvest mode. On Sunday, they pressed the Sauvignon Blanc and yesterday inside the winery, they were busy pressing the Cayuga grapes. During harvest season, the wine making team typically starts work at 6am and works well into dinner hours, said Cassandra Earle, Director of Marketing and Events.

WhatsUpNewp stopped by Newport Vineyards yesterday to chat with Winemaker George Chelf as he worked on putting the Cayuga grapes – used in Newport Vineyards Great White – into the press. Here’s what he told us about some of the steps involved in the process of winemaking.

Picking.

It starts with taking off protective nets and getting the grapes off the vines. “We use a machine called a harvester that sucks up the grapes while keeping stems on the vines,” Chelf said. The freshly picked grapes are dropped into large blue bins which can be picked up by a fork lift.

“All grapes are picked this way except our select wines and Vidal ice wines, which are hand-picked,” Chelf said.

Pressing.

The grape-filled bins are then transported by fork lift to Newport Vineyards’ digitally-operated press, where juice is pressed out and skins stay behind. From there, the juice goes into a stainless steel tank to chill overnight, Chelf explained.

“In the tank, the heavy material will sink to the bottom and the juice will rise to the top,” Chelf said. The winery at Newport Vineyards has 41 stainless steel tanks, ranging from 500 gallons to 3,200 gallons.

Fermenting.

About 24 hours later, it’s time to start fermentation. “After we rack it, we’ll put the clear juice in a separate tank and add yeast,” Chelf said. “During fermentation, we typically keep whites at 58-64º.”

This cool temperature range, Chelf explained, has to do with the speed at which yeast eat sugars and multiply. “If temperatures get too high, these reactions happen too fast and the result is wine that’s lost its fruitiness.”

For white wines, Chelf said fermentation typically takes two weeks to one month, but notes that Gewurtztraminer takes longer.

For reds, fermentation is a little different. “Unlike whites which are separated from skins right away, we ferment reds with skin on,” Chelf said. “We typically keep it 90-92º, and punch the cap – that’s the skins that accumulate on the top – twice per day.” Reds also get tasted for two to three days to check balance, then they’re moved on to the press, then to the tank.

Barreling.

From the tank, the vineyard’s red wines and two of their whites – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – go into oak barrels where they’ll stay for about five to six months. “In March, we start tasting,” Chelf said, “and we’ll select which barrels we want to use to make a blend.” Following this process, the wine goes back in the barrels for one to two years.

During this stage, Chelf said the barrels will need to be opened once per month and topped off so they stay full. “Oak is porous,” Chelf said, “so some evaporation occurs. The wine left behind is more condensed with bigger flavor.”

Bottling.

Chelf said white wines are typically bottled within six months, usually in April, while reds are typically bottled one to two years after being put into the barrel.

Chardonnay is an exception, though. “We treat Chardonnay like a red because we want it to have oak flavor,” Chelf said. “It takes nine months in the barrel and is usually bottled in late summer.”

Want to see harvest in action? Head to Newport Vineyards for tastings, tours, lunch at the Vineyard Cafe or dinner at Brix Restaurant. Details and hours here.

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