Like human beings, a wine's taste is going to depend a great deal on its origins and its upbringing. – Linda Johnson-Bell
Harvest season began at Fence Stile with our first harvest last Sunday. This marks the beginning of our busiest time in every aspect of Fence Stile. This season is when we have the most requests for tours, trolleys, tour busses, and events. It is the best time to see the vineyards. Since our tasting room is surrounded by vineyards, there isn’t a bad view on the entire property. Our tasting room is busy with first-time guests and long-time friends. The vineyards have non-stop activity as we get ready for harvest. The winery is busy emptying tanks, prepping for new grapes, and getting crush equipment back in use after a 10-month hiatus.
The August weather has been highly unusual for the Midwest. Last Sunday was no exception. The team considered many scenarios and contingency plans for the day to prepare for when nature determines the grapes are ready. Volunteers and team members harvested nearly 2.8 tons of Vignoles destined for the tall blue bottles that everyone loves. This week marked the beginning of the smell of fermentation wafting into the tasting room, stains on our fingernails and clothes from harvest, and the careful dance with Mother Nature as we work to get our grapes from the vineyards through the transformation process of becoming wine.
While harvest is an event, it is really the finale of almost a year of work. The grapes we harvest will reflect a year of sunshine, rain, frost, wind, temperature fluctuations, decisions made about canopy management, spraying, suckering, and more. Every decision made and everything Mother Nature serves us will be reflected in the grapes and, ultimately, in the wine. It is impossible to make good wine out of bad grapes. Every delicious sip starts with the vineyards and then, after harvest, our job is make sure we continue to shepherd the winemaking with the same diligence we gave to the grapes.
In preparation for this week, we have made and revised plans, ordered supplies and spares, repaired equipment, cleaned, sanitized, checked equipment we haven’t used since last harvest, refreshed ourselves with the controls of the equipment, and recalled past failures to ensure the lessons learned are part of the new plan and contingency planning. The practice and mental dry-runs are no different than preparing for the big game, the big event, or even the eclipse. You get one shot to get it right!
In preparation for the coming weeks, we have stocked up on water, Gatorade, snack packs, first aid supplies, favorite beverages, and even added a Bose wireless speaker. We can take turns connecting our phones to share our favorite music with the team to help get through the long days. We have talked about the intensity of the events with a team that has not been through this together yet. Tensions will be high. “Please” and “thank you” are intended, even if not spoken. Forgiveness is implied if voices are raised in a heated moment. We have the need to share neck rubs and jokes to help get through the long days. We are moving into seven-day work weeks, knowing that the next few months will be intense. Social commitments will be minimal and our family and friends will be supportive as we grind through long days. We will need our sense of humor, a common objective, and each other to help us stay motivated.
This last weekend, we were reminded that while we feel this intensity and drive, so do our guests. With one-half of a row left to pick, the odd August sky turned from a cool, cloudy, comfortable one to a dark rainy one. As the rain came down, we told our volunteer picking crew to head inside the tasting room, dry off with the towels stacked inside the door, sit by the fireplace, and enjoy a glass of mulled wine while we get lunch ready. They did not. Not one person walked away. Our incredible volunteers said they came to harvest and they were not leaving the last of the row without finishing the harvest! This is the what we all work for – this is why we are an estate winery!
Relationships are built, friendships are made, memories from previous harvest are shared, stories are told, new memories are created and, in the process, we make wine to be shared with loved ones.
My team, a talented group of individuals, will come together to marry the art and science of viticulture and viniculture. Our hope is to express the best of nature, our drive, and our passions by creating something extraordinary to share with family, friends, and loved ones. My hope is that once we have discovered each other’s musical tastes, created new memories and stories, shared a bottle on the crush pad at the end of a very long day, forgiven, and learned from the missteps, celebrated the wins, and held each other up, we emerge as a strong family. Every vintage has a story. I am excited to see our 2017 harvest story unfold.
Owner and founder
Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery
After volunteers and the Fence Stile team complete the morning grape harvest, what happens next?
[Sign up to volunteer to harvest grapes on Sundays during September by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. View a gallery of photos during harvest.]
Once grapes are picked and placed in five-gallon buckets, the buckets are emptied into a yellow macro-bin that can hold hundreds of pounds of grapes. The bin is transported by a tractor to the crush pad located behind the Tasting Room and wine production facility. The grapes in the bin are weighed to calculate the total tonnage for the day's harvest.
Each bin is then unloaded into a crusher/de-stemmer machine. An auger turns and feeds the grapes into the machine which separates grapes from the stems. The stems are deposited into a tub and then dumped into an empty macro-bin for composting. The grapes are fed into a crusher that mashes them into pulp and juice. This grape mash is pumped through a hose to a press. The press further extracts juice from the grape pulp, separating skins, seeds, and pulp from the juice. The juice is pumped into tanks, where it will be inoculated with yeast after a day or two of settling. The yeast begins the process of feeding on natural sugars in the grapes to begin the fermentation process under the watchful eye of the winemaker.
Grapes harvested by volunteers and the harvest team are transported to the crush pad and crushed as soon as possible to preserve the innate quality of the fruit's aroma, flavor, and physical composition. Harvest volunteers are an essential part of the timely process that transforms grapes from the harvest season into next year's vintage of wine.
Loading grapes from the macro-bin into the crusher/de-stemmer.
An augur turns and feeds the grapes into the crusher/de-stemmer.
Once grapes are removed from the stems, the stems are deposited into a tub that will be emptied into a macro-bin for composting later.
De-stemmed grapes are fed into the crusher to produce a rough mash that breaks up the grapes. The pulp and juice is pumped into another machine that will press the pulp and skins to extract juice.
The grape pulp and skins are pressed. Juice is extracted, collected, and pumped into a tank, where it will undergo the winemaking process. Grapes from this year's harvest will become next year's bottled wine.
Dedicated volunteers, including some first-timers, joined the Fence Stile team last weekend for our first harvest of the season. We harvested several rows of Vignoles in cool morning weather. These green-gold grapes form tight clusters and grow in dense bunches on the vines. With the help of volunteers, we were able to bring in that day's picking and enjoy a hearty harvest lunch and wine afterward.
View the harvest in the gallery below.
We still need more volunteers to help with upcoming harvest of Seyval, Vidal Blanc, and other grapes. Join us!
Space is limited and reservations are required. Email us to get on the harvest list. Please include a phone number, preferred date, and how many spots you would like.
Sunday, September 3rd
Sunday, September 10th
Sunday, September 17th
Sunday, September 24th
Sunday, October 1st
Tentative date for our Annual Grape Stomp (I Love Lucy style) - Sunday, October 8th
August is an exciting time to visit the winery and tour the vineyards. Last weekend, Barley Bus brought a group to Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery for a wine tasting and tour.
The group was led into the vineyard along rows of Concord grapes. The vines are full of leaves and, more importantly, clusters of grapes. By this time of year, red grapes have begun to turn color from green to various shades of red and purple. Varieties of green grapes will become more translucent in the skin color as the grape ripens.
The vineyard manager checks the progress of the vines to ensure healthy growth. Brix measurements are taken daily using a refractometer. Brix is a measure of the sugar level in the grapes. Two guests in the photos below are using a refractometer to assess the current reading.
Harvest timing depends on multiple factors. Have the grapes have reached the target sugar level, or Brix? As sugar level increases, has the acidity dropped to the desired pH level? Do the grapes show even coloration? Have the grapes plumped up as sugars increase? Judging by taste, are there traces of bitterness in the flesh or seeds? Are the flavors of the varietal evident?
Once various sections of the vineyard are ready to harvest, the winery's harvest team springs into action. Grapes are harvested by hand, row by row, and deposited into five-gallon buckets.. Once full, the buckets are loaded into large macro bins on the back of a trailer pulled by tractor up and down rows. Macro bins are taken to the crush pad to be weighed. Picked grapes are then loaded into a crusher/destemmer to remove the fruit from the stems. The crush process varies slightly between green and red grapes. In all cases, the goal is to minimize the time between harvest from the vine in the cool morning to the crush.
Spots are still available to help with the harvest. Space is limited and reservations are required. Email us to get on the harvest list. Please include a phone number, preferred date, and how many spots you would like.
Tentative harvest dates:
Sunday, August 27th
Sunday, September 3rd
Sunday, September 10th
Sunday, September 17th
Sunday, September 24th
Dates are tentative and will be revised as we test the sugars, evaluate the juice chemistry, and see when nature is ready for us.
Tentative date for our Annual Grape Stomp (I Love Lucy style) - Sunday, October 1st
Learn more about volunteering for a harvest party.
One of this weekend's Chef's Specials is inspired by Pete Dulin's recent trip down the mighty Mississippi River on a riverboat cruise from St. Louis to New Orleans. Red beans and rice, a staple dish in New Orleans, are traditionally prepared on Mondays. The dish can be easily prepared in a pot while tending to other tasks.
Adding a twist to the dish, farro is substituted for rice. Farro is an ancient grain with a nutty taste and slightly chewy texture. It's also high in fiber and dense with nutrients like Vitamin B3 and zinc. Farros is versatile in salads, trendy grain bowls, and with yogurt and fruit for breakfast. Keeping matters simple and rustic, farro is paired with red beans for its similarity to rice while adding a hearty texture and taste.
Red beans and farro are cooked similar to red beans and rice with some Louisiana sass and spice. Served at room temperature, the dish includes a sauté of hot sauce-laced bell peppers, jalapeno pepper, zucchini, and greens to add color and farm-fresh summer flavor.
Try red beans, farro, and summer vegetables with Firepit Red, Loft Red, or even Vignoles for a touch of sweetness to balance the mild spice.
Prefer sweet to savory? Summer fruit makes tasty compote or jam. This weekend, try some flaky puff pastry ladled with blueberry, blackberry, and lemon basil compote with a glass of Sweet Enchantment or Sejour sparkling rosé. You might also opt for puff pastry with ginger peach jam and a glass of Vidal Blanc or Captivation, a dry sparkling white with peach and floral notes.
Let us know what combination of wine and food you enjoyed best! Available while supplies last.
Brand and events manager, chef and cellar rat Pete Dulin documents wine, food and operations at Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery through writing and photography.