The Art of Making Wine

There's a certain science of preserving fruit and crafting a beverage
Whiskey And Brandy Distillery
Photo by Cylonphoto / Getty Images Plus

Winemaking in Northwest Florida is not that different from winemaking in other parts of the world.

When you think about it, winemaking is a profession as old as civilization itself. From Ancient Egypt, Europe and Asia, winemaking was, and still is, the art and science of preserving fruit and crafting a beverage that Louis Pasteur called, “The most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”

All wines begin as a product of the sun and soil that bring forth the grapes from which the wine is crafted.

Grapes are a horticultural crop. The vines must be matched with the proper growing environment and cultural techniques to yield a sustainable crop of grapes year after year. Most of the vines producing grapes for Chautauqua Vineyards are 40-plus years old.

They are muscadine grapes, native to the Southeastern U.S. Soil borne diseases and a climate that features some impressive heat and humidity limit the varieties that can be successfully grown in Northwest Florida.

As with all grapes, the quality in the vineyard can not be improved at the winery.

It can be shaped and formed into the desired wine but not improved. It is for this reason that the proximity of the vineyards to the winery is crucial for any serious winemaking.

The 50 acres of vineyards suppling Chautauqua are located a short 12-mile drive from the winery.

Harvest season begins in late August. Grape samples are evaluated for sugar, acid, pH, and of course, flavor.

The grapes are harvested in the cool morning hours starting at daylight and ending around 10 a.m.

The white grapes, Carlos Muscadine, ripen first. We will spend 8 to 10 days picking Carlos grapes, which are brought to the winery for processing as soon as they are picked.

We have large, temperature controlled, stainless steel tanks for fermenting and storage and a large press that was custom-built by Sharfenberger in Germany. Our pressing is quick, efficient and focused on retaining the flavor muscadine grapes are famous for.

The red grapes, Noble Muscadine, ripen in mid-to-late September.

They are sampled and later harvested in the same manner, but things change when the grapes get to the winery.

Some of the red grapes are pressed like the white grapes to yield a pale red wine, (blanc de noir, white from a red).

Most of the red grapes are fermented in the traditional method for red wine — on the skins with select yeast. This method allows the flavor and color of the red grapes to be extracted by the action of the yeast and by the pressing later. 

Wines are fermented, blended and allowed to become stable before bottling. Bottling can begin as early as the spring following harvest.

Because the fruity character of muscadine grapes is what dominates the profile of flavor and aroma, these wines are best served young, within a couple of years of bottling. At Chautauqua we also make dessert wines from muscadines as well as other fruit wines.

Chautauqua Vineyards crushed its first vintage in August 1989, and was open to the public for wine sales 30 years ago in July 1990.

I was once introduced as a luncheon meeting speaker by a close friend who said, “This man has the best job in Walton County.”

I did not think much of it before, but I think he’s right. I feel blessed to have a job doing what I love, in a part of the world I love. 

Categories: Drinks, Opinion