Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

The “Art” of Winemaking December 10, 2021

Filed under: At The Winery,Winemaking — Thorpe Vineyard @ 3:39 pm
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I’m sometimes asked what’s going on in the wine cellar during winter. Well, there are a number of things always happening, but the most important thing to me is to chill the wine in the tanks. We don’t have large equipment to do so once temperature starts to rise in spring. So we utilize the chilly winter air outside – it’s quite natural and environmentally friendly way to cool the wine down.

Wine is an acidic drink. The major component of the acids is tartaric acid that comes from grapes. When wine gets cold, so-called the solubility of tartaric acid decreases. It’s sort of like you are putting sugar in your coffee. Hotter the coffee, easier to stir more sugar in. Right? If you dissolve a lot of sugar into your hot coffee, part of the sugar will precipitate as the coffee gets cold. A similar phenomenon happens in wine. When wine temperature goes down, tartaric acid combines with potassium that is also a natural ingredient of grapes. They form potassium bitartrate and precipitate at the bottom of the tank. As the acid level comes down, the wine becomes softer and milder. It is called cold stabilization of wine. Incidentally, potassium bitartrate is cream of tartar you use in baking. Did you know that?

So monitoring acid level in wine is an important task for winemakers. Here is the way my lab table looks like when I test the acid. The acid in wine samples is neutralized by a basic reagent to measure how acidy it is. It changes as the cold stabilization progresses. 

Another thing I do once the fermentation completes is to test the alcohol level in wine. This is called Ebulliometer. It boils a small amount of wine and tells me its boiling point. Consequently, I figure out the percentage of alcohol in the sample by looking up a chart. Alcohol boils lower temperature than water and the boiling point of the sample depends on the alcohol content in wine and the ambient atmospheric pressure. This is a sophisticated sensitive apparatus that the old owner, Bob Straubing, Sr., left behind.

So, where does the “art” come into winemaking? I’ve always thought that’s a very good question as there is so much science behind winemaking starting from growing grapes. Lots of analyses, observations, calculations, etc. etc… Then one day I face the wine samples in the glasses in front of me. They have to go into the bottle one of these days. I sniff, taste and start mixing the samples in different portions – add some sugar time to time. At some point one of the glasses comes to me on its own – there it is! Winemaking is not the art but the wine itself is.  

I pick the glass up and taste it again. Sure, I like it. Did I keep track of the blending portions? My notes are full of scribbles — well, looks like I did. And to me sometimes the hardest part is to replicate the contents of the glass exactly the same way in the tank. That’s called the challenge of winemaking.


Songbirds November 21, 2018

The very hot and very dry summer came to an end in the middle of August when we got over 5 inches of rain within a few days. The heat continued, but the rain made a comeback to my rain gauge from time to time. A hot and dry summer is good for the grapes, but when it became rather droughty, it brought a different kind of concern to the grape growers, myself included. So, it was a welcome change to see some rain every now and then. As the grapes were already well underway to early harvest due to the mid-summer heat, that also kept the disease pressure low; occasional rainy days even felt refreshing following the extremely hot period.

At the beginning of September the rain went away somehow, and it started to dry out again. I recalled the beautiful fall weather of last year – sunny and much warmer than normal temperatures – which brought us a great harvest time. After a soggy summer, it appeared as if we’d be reliving the true summer of 2017. I started to prepare for the harvest, which was for sure to come earlier this year, without much doubt to have the same sort of harvest time as last year, based on the dry summer we’d had.

The changes happened when the remnant of tropical systems dumped the moisture in the middle of September. It was not necessarily rain, but high humidity in the forms of dews, mists and fogs all the time. There were not many occasions for the grapes to dry out; the excessive moisture promotes the growth of the spoilage microorganisms, namely bunch rot, aka botrytis, and downy mildew. Now we had to forget about the low disease pressure: we’ve got to do something! Luckily the grapes were ripening quickly so we started our harvest. Diamond came in first (if you are a fan of Evening Glow and/or Fialka, this variety gives the flavor you love), and Maréchal Foch and Pinot Noir followed.

October 2018 turned out to be another memorable month, to say the least, in which we weathered two totally separate seasons in just one month. The first half was more or less like summer, while the latter half brought a sure taste of winter. Rain also prevailed throughout the month. We tried to move along as much as we could before the spread of the diseases would become a serious threat to the grapes.

One day when I walked out from the winery barn to head back to the house, I heard a clear musical whistle in the backyard. Oh, a White-throated Sparrow! I instantly stopped to look toward the brush where the voice came from. It was another gray damp day in the first week of October. The whistle was repeated a few times then quiet down. White-throated Sparrows appear in spring when we have wet weather before trees bud out around here. They always seem to be busy feeding on the leftover seeds from the previous year, and somehow move away when the sun gets higher in the blue sky as the season progresses into summer. The misty October afternoon resembled the rainy spring weather in which I’m used to seeing them. I heard their song time to time though never caught them in sight.

We finished our harvest on October 14th and were busy processing the grapes the following day. I was a little nervous as a storm was called for in the afternoon – when we crush and press the grapes, we have to leave the front door of the winery barn wide open. The winds picked up gradually, and by early afternoon stormy looking clouds filled the sky that appeared to be getting ready to come down. I heard the distant roar over the Lake. “Must be the cold front approaching,” I thought as I’d had the same experience in the past. Fortunately, it never poured here while we were working. By shortly after sunset we finished cleaning and closed the door. I felt relieved.

The cold front swapped the season from summer to winter overnight, and it remained wet and chilly the rest of the month. I started to see Northern Juncos frequently in the yard who are messengers of the coming winter. Bluebirds were often on the power wires – do you know we have year-round bluebirds here? White-throated Sparrows were still heard in the brush in the cold rain along with the familiar voices of Cardinals, House Finches and Common Flickers.

While I waited for the foliage, the winds ripped a lot of leaves from the trees this fall. My backyard was no exception as the brush turned bare gradually as I walked back and forth between the buildings everyday. One moment I came to a halt to look around the brush – I hadn’t heard the clear whistles for a few days. It was the last week of October under the gray sky that was such an accustomed scene by then. “Maybe they left,” I thought. “I don’t know where they overwinter, but they have a place to go.”  It felt like the chilly mist was coming in from the Lake. “I’ll see you again in the spring rain.” It was my promise to the Songbirds for sure to return next year.


Fireflies July 21, 2014

Filed under: Nature — Thorpe Vineyard @ 4:01 am
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firefliesby Fumie Thorpe

I walk out to the field looking for

the gathering of the Planets. Over the horizon

what I see are the countless fireflies.


They so freely fly up, and

cross the night sky — playfully competing

their acrobatic skills with the shooting stars.


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