Okay, we already know from last month's blog about ice wines that most wineries don't just shut their doors and go into hibernation for the winter. But there has to be more to the story than that, right?
Well, yes, there is.
During the winter months, life slows down and the everyone has a chance to rest and recover, including the vines and the wines. Here are some of the surprising things that happen during the winter and a few reasons why you shouldn't leave your favorite winery out in the cold.
Asleep, yet alive
In the winter, grape vines that have been poked, prodded, tested and cajoled to produce award-winning grapes now go dormant, temporarily ceasing all growth above ground.
But beneath the surface, life goes on.
Instead of directing energy to producing fruit or new leaf-growth, vines turn inward. Underground, the root systems deepen and widen to drink up new nutrients. Inside the trunks, the carbohydrate reserves that were collected through photosynthesis in the summer days, are greedily hoarded for next year's labor.
Out in the field
Vineyard managers come out for the business of winter pruning, one of the most crucial aspects of vine management. Each cane (a shoot from the previous harvest that's now protected by a layer of wood) is carefully examined to determine which should be cut back and which should be allowed to bud in the spring.
This is a delicate process that requires an eagle eye. Under pruning can lead to too large a canopy or too many bunches, which diminishes overall quality. But over pruning is also a problem because vines will spend too much energy growing leaves instead of fruit.
Down in the cellar
Meanwhile, back inside the winery, deep down in the cellar, all that juice – having been freshly pressed, strained, and stored in barrels to begin fermentation – is settling in for a long winter's rest.
Here, the winemaker's work really begins: racking (moving wine from barrel to barrel), filtering, bottling, rinse and repeat. During this time, tiny chemical changes in the new wines are tediously monitored, and older wines are carefully watched to make sure they're aging into a vintage, not vinegar.
And then there's the topping up.
Because oak is porous, small amounts of wine (aka the Angel’s Share) can evaporate, allowing minuscule amounts of air to take its place. This air can imbue wine with nuanced flavors (like vanilla and tobacco, for example). But too much air can ruin a batch through the process known as oxidation. So, winemakers are constantly "topping off" barrels to ensure the best wine possible.
5 reasons now is the time to visit
Now that you know wineries are as alive as ever during the winter, why not plan a visit to see it all for yourself. Here are our top five reasons why going to a winery now is worth braving the cold.
Shake off cabin fever
We all become shut-ins during the winter. But there's only so much time you can stay indoors. Going to a winery is warm and welcome escape. Walk around a cozy cellar, taste delicious wines, and enjoy the crisp vineyard air.
Get facetime with your favorite Vintner
The number-one reason to visit a winer in the off season? Losing the crowds! Because most people associate wines and wine-making with the warmer months, there are simply fewer people at the wineries, leaving you with more time to settle in and enjoy the full experience. Winemakers also enjoy using this time for leisurely one-on-one conversations with guests who are interested in learning a bit more about the art of viticulture.
It's red wine season
Just think of all those warm, peppery, velvety reds waiting to be tasted. Believe it or not, colder temperatures affect our palettes, which is why hearty meals are so satisfying during the winter. It’s the perfect time to pair a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec with a flavorsome feast.
Replenish your stocks
After all those holiday parties, your collection may be running a little low. Visiting your local wineries in the off season allows you to try new wines, and replenish favorite vintages that have gone dry during all that holiday cheer.
Try something new
The winter months provide us with amazing seasonal wines, from full-bodied reds and ports to comforting mulled wine. It’s a great time to try new things! Winemakers also take advantage of the calm to perfect the blends of wines to be bottled in the coming year that you can sample now.