Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

Crystals in the Bottle April 16, 2013

Filed under: At The Winery — Thorpe Vineyard @ 5:33 pm

The following article first appeared in the April 1998 issue of our print newsletter, the Trillium Ridge Times.  As this phenomenon occurs once in a while, we thought this would be very appropriate and informative to post here again.


They may look like snowflakes or little lumps at the bottom of the bottle.  These crystals are mostly potassium bitartrate, also known as “cream of tartar” in a cookbook.  They form from potassium ions and tartaric acid that are both naturally present in grapes, hence in wine.

A very small portion could be calcium tartrate, similar to potassium bitartrate but the only difference is that this is a calcium compound rather than potassium.  Calcium is also a natural constituent of grapes and wine.They may be large or small in size.  They may form a thin disc at the bottom or just a few crystals you barely see.  They are usually transparent white crystals but in wine they may be ivory, brown, red or purple by picking up the pigments in wine.

When wine gets chilled, the solubility of these tartrate salts decreases so the crystals form and precipitate to the bottom.  In the wine making process we intentionally try to do it in the bulk containers.  It is called “cold stabilization” or we say that “we cold stabilize” the wine.  Since the procedure removes a portion of tartaric acid, the main acid existing in wine, the wine becomes less acidic and milder in taste afterwards.


Many small-scale wineries like us rely on the cold temperature during winter to chill down the wine, where larger wineries would use refrigeration systems.  Thus we can get into a little trouble when we have a mild winter like these past two years.  Our cellar does not get cold enough for the wine to stabilize naturally.  What could possibly happen later is that the bottle of wine decides to undergo the cold stabilization all by itself — when the bottle is put in your refrigerator to be chilled and you get surprised at  the crystals in the bottle.

For the most part the crystallization process is temperature dependent; that is, it takes place when the wine is chilled as just mentioned.  However, it also has a small factor that it depends on time.  For example, you may eventually find a small amount of crystals in the bottle that you have been keeping in your cool wine cellar for an extended period of time, usually an order of a year or more.

Both potassium bitartrate and calcium tartrate are quite harmless to your health.  When you find the crystals in your wine, all you need to do is to decant the wine away from them and enjoy!  If our wine has produced excessive amount of crystals and you can’t feel very comfortable, please tell us about it.  We will be glad to exchange or refund, whichever you would prefer.


Against All Odds: A Message at the Beginning of My 25th Year April 2, 2013

Filed under: At The Winery — Thorpe Vineyard @ 12:07 pm

Early Days

girl-scientist1When I was graduating from Elementary School, all the kids in the class were instructed to write down what they wanted to be in the future for the year book.  Many girls wrote down “Bride,” which meant that they wanted to be a good housewife and mother.  About 40 years ago in Japan it was a very appropriate wish.  Boys usually liked to be a policeman or firefighter.  It was also a respectable thought that they wanted to help keep the community safe and sound.

I wrote down “Scientist.”  I was fascinated by the accomplishment Marie Curie had made in the field of science during the last two years in elementary school.  She was my idol then, and still is.  However, I don’t really know what the rest of the class thought about my answer.  I was an odd bird hanging around the little school library reading about the scientists and explorers who made great discoveries in the world.


During the years in Junior High and High Schools my scientific curiosity switched from chemistry to earth science.  I acquired a small secondhand telescope and mastered how to swing it around under the light-polluted night sky of Tokyo.  Eventually my main interests shifted from astronomy to meteorology as I had to know about the weather to observe the stars.  It was probably as simple as that.

It was also the time period when another part of me developed the sincere appreciation of poetry and classical music.  I started to get associated with many school mates who I otherwise wouldn’t have even gotten to know.  Perhaps the funniest thing was that I could never belong to either one of the two groups alone.  I was again an odd bird that flew around the sciences and the arts, never really settling with one.

meteorology-icons-thumb24467101So when we, the High School kids, had to decide what to major in college, I couldn’t figure out what would be the best for me.  It was one of the, if not “the,” most important decisions we all faced in our lives about 30 years ago in Japan.  There was no “undeclared” major if we wanted to go to a college.  We MUST have an intended field of study to actually decide which college to attend.  Then we spent most of our school years studying to take the entrance examinations to colleges and universities hoping that we would be successful to be admitted to one of them at least.  There was hardly a second chance, and perhaps it was also true to our lives in general.

As this can be easily imagined, I couldn’t choose which way to go for a long time.  But eventually I picked meteorology merely to find that there was just one outrageously competitive college that exclusively taught it in Japan in those days.  Moreover, the college was only open to boys.  I was disappointed.  I turned my attention to go to the US.  While I stayed in Japan for another two years or so primarily studying English, this Meteorology College finally opened its door to girls.  But by then I was past their age limit so I was ineligible to take their test.

Oswego, New York

I came to the State University of New York at Oswego in September 1983.  Many people asked me why SUNY_Oswego_logoOswego despite the fact that there are so many colleges in the US which teach meteorology.  I always answered, “I expected to see a lot of interesting atmospheric phenomena up on the shore of Lake Ontario.”  And this Lake has kept up to my expectations for all these years.  Additionally I wanted to live in the country since I grew up and lived in one of the biggest cities in the world for over twenty years.  Cities are fun, but I always dreamed about the starry night right outside the window.  One quiet night I went grocery shopping.  I walked across the Oswego River and saw the stars reflecting on the calm water from the bridge.

When I started my freshman year, I was just about the age of regular seniors.  There was a friendly jargon at Oswego called “non-trads,” a shortened form of “non-traditional students.”  A traditional student starts his/her college right after high school and graduates in 4 years.  If anyone who didn’t quite fit into this scheme, they were called “non-trads.”  Incidentally, I got married during the third year which made me even more “non-trad” as well.  Then I wound up getting into the wine business another two years later — now I was older, married and had a business besides being a college kid.  I must have been an extraordinary “non-trad” in those days’ standards.

There were four girls besides me out of perhaps 40 or so students in the Meteorology Program when I started.  And there were no other foreign students, either.  I took the two-semester music course for my humanity distribution one year that later on was found out to be a fairly sophisticated musicology lecture.  The very first day the professor asked the class if any of us was a “hard science” major.  I didn’t understand what “hard science” meant so didn’t raise my hand.  No one else did.  Later on she told me that meteorology was a “hard science.”  Well, I learned a new term to describe me.  But I enjoyed the demanding course that was a mixture of the intensive readings of the Western history and appreciating the good classical music.   Overall it took me nine years to get the degree as I was part-time most of those years.


Thorpe Vineyard, the Little Winery on the Great Lake

It was the summer of 1988.  The small winery called Straubing Vineyard in the Town of Huron in Wayne County was purchased by my family purely by chance.  I was the only one who opposed, but my vote was totally disregarded by the rest.  So Straubing Vineyard became Thorpe Vineyard.  Wayne County has always been known for its apple and other tree fruits production, but there weren’t any other commercial wineries or vineyards to my knowledge then.  When I felt the necessity to discuss the vineyard and grape management as well as wine and winemaking, I learned to ride down to the Finger Lakes.  One time I was asked which Lake I was from.  I answered “Lake Ontario.”  That’s correct; it’s not a Finger Lake.  I still remember the surprised look I got.


Thorpe Vineyard

A few years ago my friend and I were supposed to meet at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva to attend a winemakers’ seminar.  As he was not familiar with the location, I tried to give him the instructions where to find me.  He chuckled and said, “You know, you are easy to spot around here!”  I know I’m a female Asian among mostly Caucasian male in the wine and grape industry in upstate New York. The situation is still pretty much the same as my college days when I was often the only girl among 10 to 20 students in the classroom.

Invitation: Now and Beyond

When I look back, I’ve lived most of my life against so-called stereotyped ideas regardless where I am.Fumie Thorpe in the Lake Store The environments were not always accommodating.  I have, however, noticed the slow but sure changes taking place in the last decade or so, and they have given me some optimism.

I used to feel awkward when I heard the term “diversity.”  I couldn’t figure out the focal point of the word.  However, I’m now starting to see that it could deliver the unity to the whole picture.  It is like the entire world coming together by accepting all the diversity inside.

So here I am, the odd bird putting a few different components under the same roof again this year.  It was the Sunset Tasting last year; as I wanted to share the gift of the glorious sunset over the Lake while the visitors enjoyed the wine that came from my vineyards.  Fortunately many people joined the evenings, and we saw the green flash once.  The success encouraged me to plan the Starry Starry Night four times this summer.  I will talk about the Mythology of both West and East while showing how to find the constellations.  We’ll get out beneath the shining stars to realize what our Planet has to offer, and to learn how to embrace our Universe that holds us within.


Alopecia Areata April 1, 2013

Filed under: At The Winery — Thorpe Vineyard @ 11:44 am

“Fumie, do you know you have a bald spot here?”

My hairdresser was touching the back of my head, just above the hairline. I knew I had a small bald spot around there; it was a scar from a small wound I got when I was a kid. But I thought she knew about it. She turned the chair around and handed me a hand-held mirror to show it in the bigger mirror in front of me— Yeah, right. There was a bald spot out there, about the size of a quarter. She told me to keep my eye on it as those things could get bigger quickly.


I remember my sister had one a long time ago. Her baby girl had to be hospitalized from an infection. My little niece was in and out of the hospital for a short while before fully recovery, and my sister was obviously under serious stress. They say stress causes this round baldness, called alopecia areata, and it tends to run in the family. I couldn’t think of my life being free from any stress, and since my sister eventually got well completely, I was not that concerned about the fact that I had a bald spot on my head. It was April 2010.

Every time I saw my hairdresser, the bald spots changed their locations and sizes. While some spots filled in, a few new spots appeared. But I was losing more than gaining overall. By Spring 2011 I wasn’t able to walk out from the house without a hat, and any remaining hair was turning white. One morning in April last year I woke up and found my right eyebrow gone. “—–.” My eyebrows never looked like those of Brooke Shields, but it was truly an overnight episode. I was amazed. My doctor put me through a number of tests to figure out the cause of this alopecia. But so far we haven’t discovered anything wrong with me physically.

It will be the fourth year this spring since the onset of the alopecia. I decided to take this occasion to make it public so that you all know what’s going on. I occasionally receive emails and inquiries as well as the whispers from my helpers like, “Fumie, so-and-so was wondering if you were sick!” I’d like to thank you for your kind attention to the matter, and let me tell you that I’m totally fine except that I’m pretty bald right now.

The doctors tell me that there is no known cause of this type of alopecia, thus no effective treatment. It appears in about 2 percent of the population, and there are over 5 million people suffering from this disorder in the US (I’m just one of them). If any of you are in the medical field and discover the mechanism of alopecia and its remedy, I bet that could be Nobel Prize material.


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