There is No Off-Season in Winemaking: Winter on the Farm

February 25, 2020

If you’re a fan of Virginia Wine, you’ve probably seen your fair share of pictures of tractors rolling through lush, green vineyards. Winemakers and vineyard workers leaf pulling and working with clusters of fully ripe, beautifully colored grapes. And, if you haven’t seen a lot of those images and videos, you DEFINITELY have seen the countless stories and content surrounding harvest and crush season in the fall – undoubtedly the most “documented” part of the winery lifecycle, and rightly so, because it’s beautiful, mesmerizing and unbelievably captivating.  

 

What isn’t documented at nearly the same level is the winter season, or everything after harvest, crush and pre-bud break. 

 

 The vineyards are barren, there’s no grapes to press, the available color palate is filled with grey, brown and white. 

 

It’s cold. 

 

It’s muddy. 

 

And, unless there’s a snowstorm, there aren’t a lot of obvious “moments” that, on the surface, are as inspiring to document.  

 

Unless, of course, you can see the beauty in the off-season. 

 Unless you can see the life happening beneath the surface of winter. 

 

And unless you know that the winter season is one of the busiest and most important times of year at a Vineyard and Winery. 

 

The reality is, there’s no off-season in wine. 

 

Here’s what we mean in this look here behind the scenes of what we’ve been up to here at Wessex Hundred. 

 

Put a Cork in It 

The winter, especially the first part of the new year, is when The Williamsburg Winery bottles! 

 

Usually, it’s during this time that the previous year’s vintage of whites (in this case the 2019 grapes), and when the red wines from two years ago (vintage 2018) make their way from barrel (or tank) to bottle. 

 

Why the delay on reds? Red wines typically age longer than white. 

Because a majority of the white wines see no oak at all, they can be bottled in the early part of the year. For those whites that do age in oak, they’ll be bottled in the late spring. 

 

The Williamsburg Winery has its own bottling line at Wessex Hundred, and as a result, isn’t forced to bottle all at once, so can easily space it out throughout the year (even though most of the bottling does happen in winter). 

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

 

 

The Williamsburg Winery blends in the winter. 

 

Well, blend may be a bit misleading. 

 

Chances are, when you hear blend, you think first of a Bordeaux-style blend such as the Gabriel Archer Reserve or a mixed white blend like A Midsummer Night’s White.

 

But even varietal wines may still be “blended.” For example, a 100% Chardonnay wine can be a blend of multiple vineyard lots of Chardonnay, or Chardonnay from the same vineyard, but a blend of some aged in oak and another lot in stainless steel.  

 

This is when the winemaking team really makes their creative mark on the vintage. 

 

Under the Surface in the Cellar 

 

If you’ve ever done a tour of The Williamsburg Winery in the winter, you may have noticed a lot of loud noises and what appears to be “commotion” in the cellar. 

 

Hoses are draped all over the cellar floor, the booming sound of barrels being rolled echo throughout the building.  

 

The winemakers could definitely save a lot of money on gym memberships this time of year because it’s pretty physical, labor intensive work that happens when the winemaking team reorganizes, or better yet, re-catalogs the cellar. 

 

 

After bottling, the now empty barrels need to be washed and prepared for the incoming vintage. The wines that are blended and need further aging, usually reds, are pumped from barrels as single varietals, together into a tank, and re-pumped into neutral oak barrels for another six to 12 months (on average) where they’ll age together as the final blend.