Having just finished up our first tasting event at the Stover Fair, and answering quite a few questions on where we are, what we are doing, and others; we thought it would be nice to get some information out here on the interwebs:
One of the bigger hurdles we have been facing since starting construction on our new building at the vineyards in Stover is moving our license. There has been some confusion (based on calls and inquiries) if we are located on Highway T near Buffalo Cove at Grey Bear Winery or somewhere else. We USED to make wine at the Grey Bear location, but last fall we completed the foundation and framing of our building located at 314 E 1st St in Stover, MO. The NEW building itself is located within city limits (just before the pavement turns to gravel on the east side of 135 South on 1st Street) and the vineyards are actually within view of the building.
We have been unable to make wine at the new building until we obtained approval from the TTB (feds) and the State of Missouri. It took 7 months and many phone calls and emails to get the paperwork approved at the federal level, and as of June 2016 we also have approval from the State of Missouri. We can now officially start making new wine, which subsequently is a nice segway into point #2.
2) Wine Making
An important lesson we have been quick to learn is that good wine takes time. The wine that we have in inventory as of right now (also the wine we had at the fair) started production in March of 2015 at the OLD building. It finished ageing and we bottled it right before we moved everything to the NEW building around May of 2016. Because of the lag time (7-9 months) in obtaining approval to move the license to our NEW building, we have been unable to start new batches of wine. This is going to lead to a considerable gap between the wine we have available right now and the first batches that get produced at the NEW building. This was partly by design- we didn’t know how long it would take to get approval to move and we didn’t want to face the logistical nightmare of moving many barrels of wine either fermenting or bulk ageing (unfortunately, it simply took forever to get the paperwork approved). Technically, we could start right now as the building is mostly ready, but coincidentally, it is summer and an unusually hot one at that. Heat is to wine what kryptonite is to Superman:
• During fermentation, it will process too quickly and “cook” the finished wine giving it a rather off-putting burnt caramel flavor.
• During barrel ageing, it can spoil the wine.
• In the bottle, it can age the wine too quickly. Wine is a living thing and always trying to turn to vinegar. Any wine will do this with enough age, and excessive heat only hastens the process (this is why cellars are the perfect answer for storing wine). If it gets too hot, by leaving it in your car on a hot summer day for example, the wine can actually leak through the cork or simply explode out of the top. Treat your wine like it is produce!
The importance of climate on all aspects of wine making is not taken lightly here at Dale Hollow, and this is the exact reason we built an earth-contact building.
If all goes well, we will most likely get our first small harvest from one or two of our varietals and be able to make a small batch from those this fall. We also plan to obtain grapes from other Missouri vineyards to supplement our own. However, with both of these options, we still have to make the wine. Grapes are crushed into juice, yeast consumes sugar and creates alcohol, finished wine ages and balances out over the course of nearly a year. If only wine just waltzed through the door once the building was finished.
We will start these new batches in alignment with the natural harvest time of grapes in the fall, they will ferment through October/November, barrel age for 6-8 months, and we can hope to be able to sell wine from these batches around this time next year.
It seems like a long way off (we feel this more than anyone!), but the idea of all of this was born from the fascination of the grape to wine process: the allure of growing grapes, the magic of fermentation, and the anticipation of ageing and balancing the finished wine. This is why we began by learning to be grape farmers first in order to make wine the traditional way, and it is essential that we stick to our principles if we want this to be a lasting and meaningful operation for us, the community, and all those interested in traditional wine making from locally sourced grapes.
3) Building Progress
We have been working on the building nearly every evening after the hours of our actual (paying) jobs as time allows. On a related note, thanks to all the wives who have been donating their husbands for this project!
This means there aren’t always very many evening hours available or we have stretches of days at a time without being able to work on it because of other responsibilities, including work in the vineyards. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that was with thousands of people for labor! “Wineries aren’t built in a month” may take on steam as a new famous saying around here.
From previous posts, you can see how we have come along from bare patch of land, to foundation, framing, and then to finishing the inside. Drywall, paint, concrete staining, plumbing, and a bathroom have all been completed. The last month or so we have been hanging all that wonderful reclaimed ceiling material we procured last year, pulling nails from a collapsed barn.
We are thrilled to report that the ceiling is finished and we can put in the insulation in the attic portion, which will greatly enhance the “cellar effect” of being earth contact as discussed in point #2 above.
The only items remaining on the checklist are to finish the plumbing, build a bar, and organize our workspace and lab area for production. The timing will work out well for finishing the inside when grapes are being harvested, but it doesn’t bring us any closer to having new wine available immediately. But it will be here before you know it! Plus, we still have wine in stock and will think of other ways to stay involved in the Missouri wine world until then. It may be drought conditions out there, but the fountain of optimism never runs dry in this guy.
The original 1,000 grapevines are still looking good despite the dry weather, and as mentioned in point #1, we should have a small harvest of Concord and if all goes well, some Baco Noir and Cayuga. This is all heavily dependent on what the weather does. The lack of rain is negatively affecting the additional 200 Norton we planted last year and especially the Catawba and Vignoles we planted this year. Ample water is critical in the first two years of the life of a grapevine, and they are hurting right now.
The grow tubes act a bit like an oven when temperatures are over 90, and we just tied or broke a record for days over 90 in the month of June. That, coupled with being 10 inches below average for rainfall for the year, has made for a setback for the new vines. The Norton from last year that were looking spectacular have also become fodder for the local deer population, chewing the delicate and apparently tasty shoots and leaves down to the grow tubes in many cases.
We are not deterred that easily though and have procured about 2,000 ft of hose and Asher has assembled an impromptu drip irrigation system for each vineyard. This is enough to do about 6 rows at a time. For everyone that has been paying attention, we have around 40 rows.
Eventually, we will have irrigation available and attached to each and every row and with the turn of a handle, water will slowly be supplied everywhere.. Eventually. This is impromptu- which means every 3-4 hours manually moving the hose to a new row of thirsty vines. Pray for rain!
Hopefully that answers all of the lingering questions. Between the building and the vineyards you can trust that we are incredibly busy nearly every day and not easily deterred. In a business that is 1/2 farming, 1/3 biology, 1/8th chemistry, and 1/25th luck, you have to be a little crazy! I am, we are, and press on we shall. Stay tuned for more updates.