Making wine is not rocket science. If it were man would not have been doing it for eight thousand years. But making good wine is another story. We are convinced that some of the wine made by our ancestors was pretty bad swill, and some of the stuff that reaches our table can be awfully bad stuff. Today, given the science of viticulture and enology, we should be able to produce a pretty good product, better than just drinkable, and sometimes approaching excellence.
We’ve found that a major ingredient in making good wine is patience. It’s easy to get in a hurry, or to try to speed up a process. Fermentation, aging, testing and sanitation take time; unfortunately, some of our winemaking colleagues rush the process, or need to release product before it is time. We are a small boutique winery. We have no need to rush. Our wine is our product and we might as well take our time and do it well. We strive for excellence, but like a baker or a chef, we make some dishes better than others. We strive for consistency at a high level, and we will not cut corners to achieve it.
We watch our modest vineyards like a hawk, and ruminate over rainfall, diseases and pests. We do not claim to be organic, but try not to spray any more than we have to. If attacked with an infestation of some insidious beetle or worm we fight back. We prune and train our vines on post and wire trellises. We prune and spread the vines to allow more sunshine to reach the fruit. The result is bigger, stronger berry clusters with a higher natural sugar content. The higher the brix (French word meaning sugar content), the better the wine. We like to harvest around 24 brix (24% sugar content)
Missouri Norton is our signature grape -with deep purple berries producing a rich red wine. Norton thrives in our summer climate, and when cultivated and pruned right the vines are laden with plump bunches, often ten or more per vine, by August. Production of ten pounds per vine is not unusual. It’s then a game of testing for brix, chasing off the raccoons who know a good thing when the see it, and picking the fruit at the peak of freshness. Our hillside vineyard produces some of the best Norton around. It’s in full sun by 6 a.m. on summer mornings burning off the night’s dew and drying the fruit. The vineyard is in full sunshine until evening assuring a good sugar content by harvest time. Sometimes at night a fog comes up from the river and coats the fruit with a misting of dew giving the fruit character. You can taste the dew, the summer sun and the wind blown Loess soil in a deep red glass of Missouri Norton.
Harvest at Yellow Farmhouse is a special event. It is a day of friendship and camaraderie. Linda has coffee and rolls ready before the first of the harvest crew arrives. The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee hangs heavy over the deck as the early morning sun creeps over the river bluffs on the far side. Shadows disappear and the verdant vines show off their bounty in the bright September sun. Our pickers, mostly friends, relatives and neighbors, can pick the hillside vineyard in a morning, and by noon the fresh fruit is in the destemmer/crusher and ready for pressing. Our Director of Vineyard Operations, Paul Wilson, has an aire of satisfaction as the must is pumped to the big press. He has fought the Japanese beetles, drought, raccoons and pesky birds to bring the grapes from buds I early April to the product of which we are all so proud. Flowing juice from the crusher/destemmer to the press to the big stainless steel tanks in which the must is fermented into wine always brings a smile to Paul’s face. “After all”, he says “isn’t that what we are all here for anyway?” He has probably got a point. Harvest day is the culmination of a labor of love that stretches from the planting of the vines years before to visible evidence of the result. The rewards of the harvest are vats of fresh pressed juice and a big lunch buffet for the harvesters on the deck overlooking the valley.
We are constantly sipping and sampling throughout the fermentation process. After the fermentation has progressed for several days an amazing thing begins to happen. The raw juice, impregnated with the yeast begins to change from a sweet not-so-tasty concoction to wine. Each day shows some improvement, and by the end of the fermentation process it is definitely recognizable as wine. Notice I did not say “good” wine, but it’s wine. It’s a long time from the end of the primary fermentation to a good wine, and here is where the patience part comes in.
Our wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks. As the lees form and sink to the bottom, we transfer (“rack”) the wine to another tank leaving the settled remnants of the fermentation in the bottom of the tank. As the wine clears from the top of the tank we perform several rackings from tank to tank each time leaving the sediment lees in the empty tank. Before long the wine has cleared to the natural color that it will assume.
“We use the finest yeasts available to ferment our wine Most come from Europe or California. Selection of the proper yeast is a critical element in achieving the good results. The yeast is heated by mixing with warm water and blended with a yeast nutrient to assure its longevity. Fermenting all of the natural sugar in the grape is essential to a clean finish and perfect dryness. Testing and correcting for acid PH goes on constantly through the fermenting process. We stir our white wines daily during fermentation to assure that the yeast is constantly in contact with the sugar molecules. With our reds we have to “punch down the cap” that forms on the surface of the fermenting must. It’s a thick mass of lees and spent yeasts that must be pushed down and stirred in daily to assure an even ferment of the must.”
After the wine clears it is then transferred to oak barrels to “sleep” in oak for up to a year. In Missouri we are blessed with an abundant supply of a special oak that makes wonderful barrels. Large cooperages supply Missouri Oak barrels to wineries and distilleries all over the world. We’ve never really engaged in the debate over whether Missouri or French Oak is a better wine barrel. The truth is that each have unique characteristics that the winemaker can exploit to get the result he or she wants. We use Missouri Oak. Ours comes from a little cooper in Higbee, Missouri. Their barrels impart a smoky caramel oak flavor that we like for our wines.We are not afraid of aging our wines in stainless steel. Some wines (and some people) do not like the toasted oak flavor imparted to wines, especially whites, by oak barrels. We can leave our wines in stainless to age and the results can be quite spectacular. The choice is up to us, and we exercise that choice liberally. That is what is so nice about operating a boutique winery; choices can be made with different wines with diverse results and infinite variety.
We invite you to sample our wines. The best way to do that is with a Six Bottle Sampler or a mixed case. If you find something you like we’d like to hear about it. Everyone’s palate for wine is different, and we have come to respect the diversity of our customer’s tastes. We offer discounts for case purchases (mixed or straight cases)
To receive the best Yellow Farmhouse experience possible we invite you to become a member of our Wine Club. Just talk to one of our associates in the Tasting Room or visit our website’s Wine Club area click here.
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