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The Process of Harvesting Grapes for Sparkling Wine

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Harvest is right around the corner and that means the Aurora Cellars’ crew will be busy making our delicious, award-winning sparkling wines. To produce our bubbly, it takes a lot more than just growing grapes.

Before the grapes can be pressed and turned into juice, they need to be harvested. There are a couple different methods to harvesting grapes: machine or hand-harvest. 

At Aurora Cellars, we hand harvest the grapes used for our sparkling wine to prevent the risk of prematurely crushing the grapes. As Perry explains, crushed berries can begin affecting the chemistry of the juice while soaking in the broken skins during the time it takes to get them from the vineyard to the crush pad.

While the crushed berries are soaking in the broken skins, bitter tannins and color compounds will begin to be extracted. If the desired color is not achieved, an issue with the final product can occur. “Additionally, the pre-juicing will result in oxidation of the juice, which can destroy the vital aromatic compounds,” said Perry.

Typically, grape harvest happens early to mid-October. The harvest of grapes used to produce sparkling wine occurs earlier than the harvest of grapes used in still wines due to the fact that they go through a second fermentation process, which creates more alcohol. Fruit used in producing sparkling wine is harvested earlier to make sure the brix levels, or the level of sugar present in the fruit, do not get too high. These sugar levels are monitored to make sure that when fermenting the juice to dry, the level of alcohol does not exceed 10%. 

The finished wine will have to complete a secondary fermentation in order to introduce the CO2 into the wine to transform it into a sparkling wine. This secondary fermentation will increase the current level of alcohol, therefore it is essential to make sure the base wine the winemaker is using to create the sparkling wine begins with a lower alcohol content. “Additionally, it is also easier to press juice from early harvest fruit without extracting other skin components, resulting in extremely clear pure juice,” explains Perry.

Aurora will begin harvesting the grapes used for our sparkling wine at the end of September. Perry says the 2022 harvest “should be on par with most years.  Sparkling wines are consistent from vintage to vintage in our cool climate growing region.”

Sparkling wine can be produced with any grape variety. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier are the classic grape varieties used to produce classic French Champagne. At Aurora Cellars, our three sparkling wines are produced using Pinot Noir (Brut Rosé), Pinot Grigio (Leora) and Chardonnay (Blanc de Blanc). If you ask Head Winemaker Drew Perry what his favorite grape variety to use in sparkling wine is, he will tell you Pinot Noir due to its “darker more subtle nature.”

There are many different methods and techniques used to produce sparkling wine but the preferred method used by the Aurora Cellars cellar team is whole cluster pressing. 

The whole cluster pressing method is a more gentle technique used to preserve the fresh aromatics of the juice.  Rather than putting the fruit through a de-stemmer and crusher before being pressed, the fruit is directly pressed – with the stems intact. This method is often used in the process of making sparkling wine because it helps extract extremely clear juice with minimal skin extraction. Very little oxidation happens with this process due to the fact that the press continuously presses pumice without breaking it up.

“Additional pressing with the stems gives the press a sort of filter media and creates channels for the juice to move through as it’s being pressed,” says Perry.

When pressing the fruit, winemakers use the Cuvée. Cuvée is a French word to mean “vat” or “tank” but is most often used to denote a specific wine blend or batch. However, when used to describe sparkling wine, winemakers are referring to the wine from the most desired portion of the press. 

Traditionally, after the first few gallons, our team will begin to monitor the pH and flavors of the juice. “Once we see the pH creep up and we start elevating in pressures, we move the remaining juice to a different tank and decide later if we want to blend these “tails” back in,” explains Perry when it comes to finding the desired juice from the press. Tails refers to the juice that goes through a more rigorous press. It can often be more bitter than the fresh pressed Cuvee. It is up to the winemaker to decide if they want to back blend a portion of this juice to include in the final blend.

 

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