Harvest Season at Big Cork Vineyards
Early on a crisp September morning, Big Cork Vineyards’ master winemaker Dave Collins is busy beginning to harvest fresh Chardonnay grapes. Carefully going through each row of grapes, and tasting a few along the way, he confirms that they are fully ripe and ready to be turned into a delicious batch of Big Cork’s award winning wine. Harvesting season has officially begun.
The Clone 96 Chardonnay grapes that are being harvested were developed about 20 years ago in the Dijon Region of France, and grow extremely well at Big Cork Vineyards in Washington County, Maryland. These Chardonnay grapes are carefully hand-harvested from the vines and fill the bushel sized blue “lugs” for transportation. After all the lugs are full, the grapes will chill overnight before heading off to be crushed in the morning.
“It’s been a really great year for growing,” Dave said as he admired his beautiful Chardonnay grapes. “The fruit is nice and golden and the sugars are testing at about 22 percent, or “brix” as it is called in the industry. Nice acids and great flavors.”
On top of harvesting the new batch of Chardonnay, Dave has to decide when all of the other grapes will be ripe and ready to go. As we walk around the 24-acre vineyard, sampling the Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes, he identifies that these red grapes are almost sweet enough for picking.
“I am really excited about standing here in front of our Nebbiolo vines. I just love this grape. It’s a grape that is grown in the Northern Piedmont region of Italy, but I have grown it in Virginia and now in Maryland for 15 years,” said Dave. “It is a very dark, rich, bold, tannic red wine that will age for many, many years.”
Dave and the Big Cork Vineyards crew wake up bright and early the next morning for the next, and very important, step in the harvest process: the crushing. They begin by meticulously hand sorting the fruit to ensure that only the best and clusters go to crusher.
After these perfect grapes are selected, they head up the conveyor belt to the crushing and de-stemming machine and are one step closer to becoming Big Cork Vineyards wine.
There, the grapes are separated from their stems during the de-stemming process. The stems fall into a bin, while the grapes are lightly crushed and continue their journey to the wine press.
The wine press resembles a large cylinder, and a vinyl membrane inside the press slowly inflates and the sweet juice is gently released from the berries. From the press, the juice is pumped to a refrigerated stainless steel wine tank, where the juice is settled, then inoculated with special wine yeast, and the juice then slowly ferments over the course of three to four weeks. Some of the juice will then be removed to ferment separately in French oak barrels, before being blended together and finally bottled in the spring.
We can’t wait until this fresh, Maryland grown wine is on the shelves!