Varieties

Not unlike a major motion picture, our wine has been three years in the making -- from planting our vines to harvesting the first fruit to fermenting, aging and filtering the wine and, finally, bottling our first wines!  Last week, with the help of friends, we bottled 930 cases of Meritage, Merlot, Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris), Rivanna Red, Rose, and Viognier wine.

I want to start at the end and say thanks to our friends, Gary, Pam, Rick, and Stephanie for showing up early in the morning and learning the process with us through the day.  Thanks also to Matthieu and Jason at King Family Vineyards and the guys from Hunter Bottling Company for being our guides.

Cunningham Creek first bottling

Hunter Bottling Co. truck

 

The Hunter Bottling Company truck is amazing.  It is a self-contained mini-factory that cleans, fills, corks or caps, and labels bottles at an amazing rate and then expels the filled cases down a conveyor belt.

 

Placing bottles on conveyor CCW bottling

As you probably guessed this doesn't happen without human assistance.  Pam, Stephanie, Bruce, and I were the ground crew while Gary, Rick P. and Rick H. manned stations on the truck.  The process begins and ends with cases on a pallet.

Job #1 is lifting each case of empty bottles off the pallet and setting it down upside down on the conveyor belt to begin the bottles journey. First thing, it's cleaned with a jet of nitrogen and then it goes to the filler.

 

The clean bottles are then filled with wine and either capped or corked, depending on whether or not the wine was fermented in oak.  The Rose and Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris) were fermented and aged in stainless and capped.  The Merlot, Rivanna Red, Meritage, and Viognier were fermented and aged in oak and corked.

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After filling and corking/capping, comes labeling.

IMG_1740 Cycle 76 Pinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wine on its way to the box

Once labeled, the bottles travel down the belt to humans again.  Two sets of nimble and careful hands place each bottle back in the case and the last machine tapes it closed.  As you can see in this video, Gary, Rick and Rick worked hard and as this picture shows, they also had fun.

Cunningham Creek wine freshly bottled

 

labeling the boxes

 

After being taped, the box travels down the conveyor belt to more sets of quick and nimble hands.  This time the task is to label the box and place it carefully back on the pallet.

 

 

wrapping the loaded pallets

 

Finally, its wrapped in plastic and ready for transport.  It turned out that this job required special expertise and became the sole responsibility of Pam.

 

 

We sampled the Rose and Cycle 76 and gave it a thumbs up.  The reds go through a "bottle shock" period and need to "rest" for about a month before we taste them, so we are trying to be patient.   But, they will be ready for tasting along with our Strawberry Wine at our Strawberry Fest on May 21.  Hope to see you there!

Cunningham Creek corks

 

 

 

We finished our first harvest—hooray!

Before I tell/show you more about the harvest, I want to thank my “happiness engineer” (this is the title they use) at WordPress.com for telling me about an app called EXIFPurge that removes orientation metadata from photos. It’s now an added step to run my blog photos through EXIFPurge before loading them, but no more upside down/inside out photos!

About the harvest...

We harvested seven varieties which totaled 23 ½ tons of grapes from our vineyard and two vineyards we lease. Depending on the variety its now in barrels or tanks at King Family Vineyard transitioning from grapes to wine.

Harvesting is a truly tactile process—drawing heavily on sight, taste, and odor.  I can’t capture the taste or smell but I’ve got some great photos that will give you a sense of the whole Cab Francprocess.  We harvested four of the five red grapes that are used to make a Bordeaux blend.

Cabernet Franc (left)

Cab Sauv CabSav

 

 

 

Cabernet Sauvignon (right)

Merlot (left)

 

 

MFF Petit VerdotPetit Verdot

We also harvested three whites.

Young ChardonnayThis is young Chardonnay several weeks before harvesting.

Pinot Gris is the gray white winePinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

Viognier

 

 

Viognier is the considered the white wine of Virginia.

 

In addition to great grapes, we discovered you need the help of fabulous friends and family to get the harvest in.

harvesting Cab Franc LHV

harvesting at LHV

 

 

 

 

 

We had some beautiful weather for harvesting and also some very wet days.  Can you identify the people under the rain gear?

Harvesting in the Rain LHV

 

Beth harvesting in the rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After harvest, the grapes were transported to King Family Vineyards and stored in the cold Weighing the grapesroom overnight.  Loading the trailer

 

 

 

 

 

The next day each pallet was weighed and then sorted.

 

sorting

Happily, we were fortunate to also have fabulous friends and family to help process the grapes at the sorting and vibrating tables.

sorting Cab Franc

 

 

 

So, what's next? First, Matthieu and Bruce will turn all those wonderful grapes into incredible wine.   Then, we'll share them with you at Cunningham Creek Winery (at Middle Fork Farm).  We plan to break this month -- stay tuned!

 

 

IMG_9579As of Sunday, the whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Gris) were sorted, pressed and safely tucked into barrels and tanks (and available for a first taste). So, we moved on to making Rose using the young Cab Franc grapes harvested on Saturday.

Rose is usually made with red grapes that are lightly crushed and allowed to sit for a short time before being pressed. This makes the lovely pinkish color, which reflects the time on skins and grape variety.

As with the white grapes, after harvesting we refrigerated the grapes overnight.  This helped them retain their juice and assured that they Cab Franc in the bindidn't prematurely start to ferment.  On Sunday, they started their trek through various pieces of equipment to transition from fruit to wine. First,  we sorted to eliminate bad fruit and then the grapes moved from sorting table to conveyor to de-stemmer to bin.

They stayed in covered bins until Tuesday, when they moved again.  This time from bin to conveyor to press.

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After the press, the juice (collected in the trough below) went to stainless steel tanks. In the late spring,  It will be bottled and we hope you’ll come by next summer to enjoy some with us.

 

Rose is best served chilled and (based on my research) pairs well with almost anything—spicy foods, cheeses, flatbread, salads, seafood, and more. Check out Food and Wine for some tasty sounding recipes.

So far, I've been telling you about the "fun" part of making wine but I've failed to mention that there's a whole lot of equipment and winery cleaning that takes place constantly.  You could say that 75% of wine making is actually spent cleaning.  Fortunately, we had lots of help!

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Gary (the newest member of the Lucy and Ethyl Club) received kudos for getting the conveyor the cleanest ever.

 

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Sometimes its not just cleaning but taking apart and then cleaning. Here's Rick cleaning the de-stemmer after he disassembled it.

 

 

Stay tuned for news of our red grape harvest -- Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Cab Sav, and Malbec.  Depending on the weather, we'll start next week.

 

 

We've been really busy harvesting, sorting, and pressing for the past week.  As of Saturday night, we've progressed to the wine making process for Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay.

Pinot Gris was the first to be harvested--approximately 4 1/2 tons, which will make about 300 cases of wine!  As you can imagine, harvesting goes much faster with many hands.  So, we were fortunate that along with Bruce, Rick, our regular farm crew, and me, our friend, Brandon, stopped by and helped.

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Like every job, there's a certain amount of prep before you get to the main event.  Before harvesting, there are two main tasks. The order doesn't really matter. The bird netting needs to be unclipped at the bottom and raised up.  For me, this is the worst part -- lots of bending and sometimes contorting to get the clip undone.  Also lugs to hold the clusters have to be distributed every few plants along the rows that are going to be harvested. Each lug holds 25-30 lbs and at the end of the harvest we drive down the rows and load the full lugs on the truck or trailer.

 

The actual harvesting was really fun, as harvesting anything you've grown always is!   Each cluster of grapes is inspected before we clip it and drop it into a lug. We check for sour rot (smells like vinegar) and bird, bug, or critter damage and remove the bad grapes.  This makes sorting at the winery go much faster.

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In addition to our 2-legged harvesters, we had Snickers and Doodle.  Their job descriptions were at first unclear but Doodle quickly appointed herself "official protector of filled lugs" and took this job very seriously.  Snickers did what herd dogs do--she herded me and made sure I didn't get lost in the vineyard.

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IMG_9426Once the grapes are loaded up, it goes to King Family Winery for processing.  First, it's refrigerated overnight and then the next day it gets sorted--once again looking for bad grapes--and pressed.  The sorting table  always reminds me of  Lucy and Ethyl hiding chocolates in their hats (and elsewhere).   For that reason, I've initiated the Lucy and Ethyl Club for all our friends who graciously volunteer to help with this task.  Pam is the most recent member of this very exclusive club.

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From the sorting table, it travels up the conveyor belt to the press, where the grapes are pressed and juice is extracted.  The juice goes into a fermenter for 1-3 weeks depending on the style of wine being made.  From there it goes into either stainless steel tanks or oak barrel to await bottling. The winemakers, Matthieu and Bruce, monitor it along the way for flavor and body so that's it tastes just right when it gets to your glass!

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In the last three years we’ve had a lot of firsts…

Our first strawberries

Middle Fork Farm strawberries

Our first grape vines

Middle Fork Farm vines

Our first kids

Middle Fork Farm kids

Our first spread

Middle Fork Farm spreads

Our first winemaking

Middle Fork Farm wine making

Tomorrow, we’ll have another much anticipated first—our first grape harvest from OUR vines! We’ll only harvest the white varieties, Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay tomorrow. The reds need another week or so before they’ll be ripe enough to pick.

Immature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

Mature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

 

 

 

 

Bruce and Rick determine picking time by testing the balance of the sweetness (measured in Brix) and acidity of the fruit. To do this, they take a random sample every couple of days when the fruit starts to look ripe. The sample is then tested and when the fruit is above 20 Brix with a pH that is less than 3.3, it’s time to pick.

Pinot Gris

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Viognier

Middle Fork Farm Viognier

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it’ll be an early start and our first task will be to pull back the bird netting that has Middle Fork Farm grapesprotected the growing fruit from, you guessed it—birds. Grape clusters are snipped at the base of the cluster and placed in bins. When we’re done, the bins go to King Family Vineyard to be made into wine. It will be refrigerated overnight and then sorted on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for pictures of picking and sorting and more about the wine making process.

The peepers are chirping, the daffodils are up, and the trees are showing their colors--spring has come to central VA!  But, along with spring comes spring work, and this year it’s compounded by tasks we weren’t able to get done during out snowy, wet, and ridiculously cold winter.   So, this past week we were busy in the vineyard, berry patch, and barnyard.

To begin, we had 4,330 new bare root vines arrive—our new varieties, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc, as well as replacement vines for plants we lost during 2013.   Normally, we would have already set the poles for the new vines but this year, we were lucky to just get the IMG_5737new two-acre section ready to plant.   This is a multistep process…ripping then rototilling the soil and then digging a trench for irrigation pipe and laying the pipe.  Once this was accomplished the rows were staked and marked with string for straightness and the location of each plant was marked (yes, that’s a lot of marks!). Finally, holes were dug and our new vines were planted in their homes.

Once that was done, each new vine got a bamboo stick and a grow tube to protect it from the ever present and ever hungry deer, as well as other hazards.  The grow tube also acts as a miniature green house and keeps the young plant warm.  Next week we’ll get started on the posts and the trellis wires and in about 2 weeks we hope to have bud break!

And, the strawberries should be budding soon, too. Last fall we covered all our berries with hay to protect them froIMG_5588m the winter weather so we’ve been uncovering them and cutting them back to prepare for their new growth.   Rick’s also preparing berry field #2 for the daughter plants.  We’re expecting A LOT of strawberries starting mid to end of May and continuing through July. Beginning in June, our berries will be available at the Fluvanna’s Farmer Market (www.facebook.com/pages/Fluvanna-Farmers-Market-Pleasant-Grove/368116841344) on Tuesdays, Farmers IMG_5638in the Park (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Farmers-in-the-Park/81048539935)  on Wednesdays, some Saturdays at the City Market (http://www.charlottesvillecitymarket.com/), Salt Artisan Market (http://saltcville.com/), local restaurants, as well as on the farm during TBA Pick Your Own days.

S0070194Goats unlike plants have a lot of opinions. Much to the dismay of the moms and kids we weaned the baby goats. There’s really no way to do this without a lot of unhappy, noisy goats.  Our plan was to move the does to a different field and confine the kids inside the barn, aka Goat Palace, for a couple of days.   We were hoping to separate them by more than a fence for a couple days.  No one was happy, but it appeared all was well until 11 pm, when I looked out the window and saw kids in the field.  Bruce and I promptly changed from our PJs to barn clothes and went out.  It was like the first day of school for new moms and toddlers…all the does were on their hind legs and emotionally calling, “Buttercup, Peanut, Apple…” while all the kids were on their side of the fence crying, “Mom, don't leave me!”DSCF0184

 

We started to catch the kids one by one and put them back in the Goat Palace until there were about 6 nimble kids left.  After running in circles and tripping over ourselves (it was dark!) and goats, we realized that once we returned them to the Goat Palace there was nothing to prevent them from escaping through our clearly ineffective “kid proof ” fencing again.  We gave up, opened the gate and got back in our PJs.

Thinking we were really done for the night, Bruce went to brush his teeth and discovered we didn’t have any water—some nights just go on forever!  The problem wasn’t in the cottage so back into our photobarn clothes to find the problem.  It seems that Jackson, our adorable but precocious mini-mule, had opened a hydrant in the field and drained our well.  Fortunately, after we locked the hydrant, our well refilled relatively quickly!

On Saturday, we said good-bye to all of our boy kids and two of the girls.  The doe kids staying on the farm were again noisy as their siblings and friends departed but seemed to quickly forget when thIMG_5768ey realized that the dinner table was much less crowded.

All in all, it was a productive week with just enough comic relief.

If you haven't already, please Like Us on Facebook to see more photos and updates  (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621).   Even if you are not a Facebook user, you can Like Us (and any other business sites).

 

 

1 Comment

Rick had quite a surprise on New Year's Day when he discovered two healthy female kids nursing in the field.  We thought the kidding would begin about January 15 but as with people, sometimes calculations and reality don't quite jive.  We've welcomed new kids almost daily since then and we are anxiously waiting for the last couple of does to kid so we can return to a more normal sleep schedule.  Fortunately Bruce built them a fine new maternity ward with four "birthing suites" which have heat lamps and heated water buckets to get us through the freezing polar vortex period.

The kids got us off to a running start in 2014 and we have great hopes for the strawberry "patch" and vineyard, as well.  Once spring arrives, we'll double our strawberry patch.  Rick says that will be about 40,000 strawberry plants-wow!   Just like the goats our new plants will be the offspring of our existing plants.  In the world of strawberries, these are called daughter plants (sorry, no sons) and when cut and planted will produce great strawberries this season, as well as their own daughter plants for next year (OMG, how many plants will we have then?).

We will also expand our vineyard in the spring. Currently, we have eight acres under vine with four varieties; Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Gris.   We will add two more acres and three more varieties; Chardonnay, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc.  Bruce and Rick can hardly control their enthusiasm as they contemplate setting several hundred more posts!  The new vineyard will be on Route 619 (aka Ruritan Lake Road) across from the existing vineyard.  This year we will add a pond betweenNewVineyard1:14 the two vineyards, which will provide the water used to irrigate the vines, as well as a great picnic spot.  Future plans include a winery, tasting room and farm market, also on Route 619.