Friday, April 23, 2010

Q & A with the Winemaker

You asked, he answered.

Thank you for encouraging Aaron in his blog post debut!  Due to the number of topic suggestions and questions we received for him on a previous post, we decided to make this a "Q & A with the Winemaker" to address them all. I paraphrased a few questions that were similar and sent them to Aaron to answer himself.  

Without further ado,

Aaron, take it away....

Q: How did you get into winemaking? What sparked your interest in wine-tasting, wine-making, and eventually, vineyard development? Did one thing just lead to another? Did this happen a long time ago or fairly recently, like a decade ago?

A. In college, I started working as a bartender at a fancy restaurant and my boss held a wine tasting for the employees. I was immediately hooked. Within a week, I searched on the net on how they made wine and found out that you can make it at home from almost anything that has sugar. I ran out to buy some Welch’s grape juice and some yeast and started to experiment. The first couple of batches were horrible. My college roommates as well as family members probably still remember the horrible taste from those batches, but the roommates didn’t care because it was free booze! Out of college, my wine making passion grew until I found out you can grow hybrid wine grapes here in Minnesota and realized this can be done in this climate. Growing grapes came as a second job because I feel the winemaker and grape grower really need to be as unified as possible (time permitting) to get the best quality. The best wine starts with the grapes.

Q. Why do you start certain projects before others--what are your priories?

A. For those that do not know my day job, I am a project manager (I plan out large IT stuff) so this comes naturally. I start with the end result in mind and try to work backwards by estimating how long each task takes and based on what needs to be done first and develop a critical path of tasks to reach the end result (ie. You have to plant the vines first and then put stakes for them to grow up.) Next I figure out the tasks I can do with a beer in hand without spilling and make those a priority as well – it takes a lot of beer to make wine (quoted from many prestigious wine makers).

Q. How do you learn all this stuff? Reading or hands on?

A. I started with reading material and lots of books and mixed in some courses provided by the U of M, which has a great introduction to set a good foundation. I also volunteered at a local winery (St. Croix Vineyards) which gave great hands on experience in both the vineyard as well as tasting room. Lastly, drinking wine at night on a regular basis also seems to seep in through osmosis.

Q. Can you speak to your Marquette grape experiences?

A. Yes, I have made two batches so far and have bottled only once. For those who do not know, Marquette is a new grape that has the best characteristic for a dry red so far within this climate (lower acid and good sugar levels). The challenge is because it is so new, winemakers are trying to figure out the best way to work it. My winemaker notes are here for those that are into this grape and winemaking for the geeks out there:

2008 Marquette

Harvested: 9-20-08, brix: 25.5, ph: 3.3, yeast: Pasteur Red, twice daily punch down, 9-26-08 added Malo-Lactic bacteria, 10-20-08 – added medium oak chips, 6-20-09 – cold stabilized and added a second level of Oak, 12-20 – 09 bottled – racked 4 times with no filtration.

2009 Marquette
Harvested: 9-28-09 beginning: brix 21.5, ph: 3.2, yeast: Pasteur Red, added 1 tps of yeast nutrient per gallon; twice daily punch down; 11-16- 09 –heavy oak chips. 1-26 -10 added Malo-Lactic blend.

Q. Where, did you get those sexy coveralls?

A. Thanks, this one you have to ask my wife on as she picked them up somewhere but I also used them as my Halloween custome (fighter pilot) and it worked out well. I was trying to go for Maverick but I was mistaken for Goose.

Q. What is your favorite wine and why?

A. Besides free wine, I have many favorites depending on what the action is taken with, white sweet in the middle of summer, port for desert. But my everyday favorite is a Meritage. A Red Meritage is a blend of two or more of the red “noble” Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the rarer St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère. If the blend includes any other grape variety, it is, by definition, not a Meritage. Also, to qualify as a Meritage, no single grape variety can make up more than 90% of the blend. I like the smoothness and complexity of this type of wine and my future goal as a wine maker is to create something with the complexity with these French hybrid wines.

Q. Do you have a brother?

A. Yes, unfortunately he is married with two kids and not nearly as exciting (just kidding, Corey). Actually, he is a pilot who has crashed an airplane and walked away, so he definitely has his own stories. But he is very happily married to one of my best friend’s childhood sweetheart (ironic story).

Q. I wanna hear the story of how you met your wife and dragged her out to wine country story- please please please?

A. I think I will reserve this for my wife within one of her future posts! But I will give you a teaser and tell you that it all started with lederhosen.

There you have it!  If you have more questions for Aaron/the Gentleman Farmer/the Winemaker, feel free to pose them at any time and we will try to do these Q & A posts periodically.