' Making Late Harvest Wine - Renaissance Winery

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Making Late Harvest Wine
How is late-harvest wine made? Renaissance Vineyard & Winery's Diana Werner, knew a thing or two...

Ripe white-wine grapes are allowed to remain on the vine until they begin to shrivel and form raisins. Ideally the damp autumn evenings create the conditions for Botrytis cinerea to grow.

Botrytis, also known as "noble rot", is a fungus that speeds up the 'raisining' and imparts a subtle honey flavor to the wine. Botrytis acts on the grape skins, making them much thinner. This process is how moisture is released from the fruit and allows the sugars to become highly concentrated without bacteria getting into the grapes.

The conditions required for this are very specific; humidity at the right time after the grapes are ripe so as to allow the growth of the botrytis and then a dry spell to allow the grapes to dry out. Sugar concentration may rise to double or more than that of normal ripened grapes.

Yields are very low in this kind of harvest; due to selective picking and highly shriveled grapes, the tons picked will be less than half of a regular harvest. It also happens that some years these ideal conditions do not occur and the grapes are wasted.

When harvested, the grapes - or at this point raisins - are de-stemmed and crushed, then left to soak in their own cooled juice to extract as much flavor as possible. When ready, they are pressed and transferred to barrels so that the process of fermentation can begin. This process can take a long time, since it's difficult for the yeast to ferment such high sugar concentrations. Some yeasts are better able than others to cope with these sugary juices - even so, sometimes the process can last for months.

When the winemaker determines that the grapes, yeast and sugar have done their respective jobs, the wine is ready for bottling and aging. This is when the wine begins to produce that full complex flavor of a great dessert wine.

It's not possible to make dessert wines every year. We are fortunate if Providence smiles, so that the right conditions appear for us to produce this golden elixir. One of our late-harvest wines, that rivals any premier (!) or first growth Sauternes, any Trockenbeerenauslese or Tokaji Essencia, is our own gorgeous 1991 late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy this delightful gem of a wine with fruit; apples are good, or better yet, Asian pear.

At first sip, time will seem to stop. The senses will be charged, and for a few golden moments, life is imbued with that deep gold hue of our 1991 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
Post By:   Charles Rodkoff