2016 turned out to be a very busy year and also a very good year. First and foremost the winter of 2015-16 was normal or average on both temperature and precipitation. This allowed the vines a chance to mature normally and there was virtually no winter damage to the vines and buds. Although the Traminette was still struggling to recover from the polar vortex experienced three years earlier. Due to that slowness to recover, it was determined that the Traminette that were dead or dying would be uprooted and replaced with a more cold hearty varietal. It was decided to plant Brianna, which is a white, American hybrid grape developed at the University of Minnesota. The Brianna Grape, Vitis ‘Brianna’, grows large clusters of white grapes and has an orderly growth habit. Berries are greenish gold to gold when fully ripe. This grape makes a very nice semi-sweet table wine with a honey-apricot-peach taste. Approximately 220 Traminette vines were pulled up and replaced with ~150 Brianna vines. This was due to the expanded spacing of each vine. Traminette was on 8 foot centers while Brianna is set at 12 foot. This was based on recommendation from Bruce Bordelon, Professor of Horticulture at Purdue.
Even though the number of vines is less, the production on a per vine basis, based on Purdue’s experience, should provide ≥ 25% more fruit.
To maintain homogenous blocks, we removed all of the Traminette in Rows T1-T8 and all that were judged to be viable were used to replace dead or dying Traminette in Rows T9-T16. So the new configuration starting on the East is B1-B8, T1 (formerly T9)–T8 (T16). Moving West, the Marquette and Chambourcin blocks remain intact M1-M6 and C1-C8.
The Brianna planting and Traminette transplanting was completed on March 24.
As mentioned earlier, the winter was average and the spring followed normally as well. Marquette bud break began mid-April, followed by Chambourcin the first week of May. We were very excited to finally see bud break on many of the Traminette, even some of the transplanted vines.
Meanwhile back in the Cellar:
As pruning and spraying accelerated in the vineyard, we had our first experience with obtaining juice from Chile which arrived on April 19. SCW purchased ~220 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The numbers were 24°Brix, 3.11pH, and 0.44g/L TA on Cab and 24°Brix, 3.08pH and 0.52g/L TA on Malbec.
The juice was transferred to stainless steel tanks and inoculated with RC-212 on April 21. Primary fermentation was completed on both juices the first week of May. Malolactic fermentation was begun immediately and on May 19, both were racked and put into 60 gallon French Oak barrels with medium+ toast and stored.
In mid-May, the 2015 Marquette was racked, filtered and bottled after resting in new American Oak since September 30, 2015. The production was 21 cases.
This was followed that on June 13 both the estate grown Chambourcin and one of the Zinfandel barrels were bottled. The Chambourcin production was 13 cases and the Zinfandel was 16 cases with ABV of 14.5%.
All three of these were entered into the Amateur competition at the 2016 Indy International Wine Competition which was held at Purdue University on August 3-5. The Zinfandel won Gold, Marquette-Silver and Chambourcin-Bronze.
Meanwhile back in the Vineyard:
Most of June, July and August were spent doing what we lovingly term MRO, short for “maintenance, repair and operations”. This covers virtually everything that needs to be done in the vineyard, if not on a daily basis, at least routinely or frequently. This includes, mowing, spraying for insects, fungus, weeds and general upkeep.
Marquette veraison started on schedule mid-July with Chambourcin beginning to show the first signs about August 5. The Marquette was netted on July 27 and Chambourcin on August 12.
The nets were removed off the Marquette and harvest began on September 2. We picked 3,208 pounds of Marquette. The Traminette was picked on September 10 with the weight coming in just over 1,600 pounds and 155 gallons of must. The pressing was completed on the 12th and yielded 95 gallons.
The Chambourcin continued to mature with the Brix increasing from 14.0 in late August to 20.5 at harvest on September 24th/25th. pH was 3.15. This was by far our largest harvest to date. We expected to be close or slightly above 2 tons, 4,000 lbs. The final numbers were 6,402 pounds, 758 gallons of must which is an average of over 21 lbs/vine. After pressing the yield was 548 gallons of wine. Most was placed into French Oak except for ~200 gallons which is planned to be made into a semi-sweet wine.
The Sugar Creek Vineyard harvest of the three producing varietals total weight for 2016 came in at 11,212 pounds, which yielded 1,228 gallons of must and 868 gallons of juice post press. This is a 71% yield off the must.
Meanwhile back in the Cellar:
In addition to this, another 2 tons of 2015 Zinfandel fruit from Lodi, CA was received on September 18. Primary fermentation on 400 gallons was started on the 19th, pressed on the 30th yielding ~300 gallons of wine which went directly into five 60 gallon French oak with medium+ toast on September 30. MLF was begun in the barrels on October 18th. The Zinfandel going into the barrels had a pH of 3.84 and TA was .72 g/L.
In early November it was determined to bottle a portion of the Malbec that had been in oak for almost 8 months to free up some barrel space. On the 7th, 38 cases were racked, filtered and bottled. The ABV came in at 13.8%, TA at 0.68g/L and pH =3.21.
It was decided to make the Traminette into a semi-sweet wine and bottle that, too. With several aliquots made up and tasted, the consensus was to target ~38g/L residual sugar or RS. This is at the upper range of semi-sweet which is RS ≥12 g/L but ≤45 g/L. Forty–six cases were bottled on November 11. The ABV was 11.7%.
Things in the cellar are settling down for the winter with most everything in or finishing malolactic fermentation. Not much to do but make sure the temperatures stay steady at 55°F-60°F and top the barrels as necessary to replace the “angel’s share”.
The working plan for 2017 is to (1) hope for another normal/average winter in central Indiana, (2) supplement our harvest with additional South American juice in the spring and (3) continue to supplement with California fruit/juice to build finished goods inventory to support initiating commercial operations in Q2 2018. This is particularly important with the white varietals. To date all but the 46 cases of Traminette have been dry red wines. Therefore, to have a well balanced selection of red, white, dry and semi-sweet wines more focus on whites will be necessary in the fall of 2017.
Meanwhile, on the commercial side of the business, there are several retail developments that are either already under construction or scheduled to break ground soon. Meetings with various developers have taken place or being scheduled. Ideally, if a suitable location can be identified and confirmed by Q2 2017, this allows 10-12 months to complete construction and/or remodeling and to obtain all the proper licensing and registrations necessary to operate a commercial farm winery tasting room.