A Taste of the Tasting Room: Your Wine Questions Answered
By Maggie Harnett, Tasting Room Manager at Greenvale Vineyards


This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Newport Naked magazine.

What is the difference between aging wine in oak or stainless steel barrels?
The biggest difference between oak and stainless steel is that one is a porous container and one is not. The oak actually interacts with the wine, imparting flavor, texture and color. Stainless steel simply keeps the flavors of the juice from oxidizing and is often a climate-controlled tank which aids in consistent winemaking. Oak barrels usually have a seven year life span. Each year they impart less flavor as the oak flavors are released into each vintage. A stainless steel tank will last for many more years.

What is table wine?
In the United States table wine does not exceed 14% alcohol. Wines that do exceed 14% are referred to as dessert wines. In Europe table wine can refer to a lower classification of wine. At Greenvale we have two table wines: the Meritage, a Bordeaux-style wine which is one of our two delicious reds and also the very popular Skipping Stone White, a blend of Cayuga and Vidal grapes.

How long does it take once you plant your vines to get a drinkable bottle of wine?
At Greenvale it can take up to seven years to taste the wine from grapes planted that many years before. For instance, with our chardonnays, we learned in the mid-nineties that the fruit from a four year old vine was noticeably less balanced than the fruit from a five year old vine. The sugar and the acids were unbalanced. A year later there was a better relationship between the sugar and the acidities. The youthful characteristics of wine produced from the grapes of younger vines mellows once it’s given a chance to age. As the plants mature, those youthful characteristics also mature, therefore, with new plants, we expect that what we plant will be in the tasting room for sale seven years later. The key word in the question is “drinkable” and we have a high standard for drinkable.

What is estate wine?
Estate wine is wine that is produced entirely (technically, 95%) from grapes owned by the same winery. The vineyards do not have to be continuous, but must be within the same appellation (growing areas designated by geography and the government). At Greenvale we only make wine from the grapes that we grow on our 73-acre operation, of which 27 acres are vineyards.

What type of wine is more acidic?
Speaking in generalities, wines that are aged in stainless steel are more acidic. Another word for acidic is “crisp.” Crisp wines tend to make exceptional food wine. Wines that are aged in oak barrels often go through a secondary fermentation known as malo-lactic fermentation which helps to soften the acidity (think dairy/lactic products as opposed to apples!) The oak also mellows the acidity. Other factors include the acidity in the soil and the climate in general: cooler regions = crisp wines. Our wines will always have some acidity again because of the nature of the soil and our cooler temps.

How long do vines produce fruit?
There are vines known to be over a hundred years old. Like any vegetation, vines are susceptible to disease which can shorten life expectancy. They can also be lost to lightening, hurricanes or extreme weather. Varietals can also dictate the life span; for example, Zinfandels tend to exceed Chardonnay in age. In Southeastern New England, growing grapes is a new old tradition; we don’t know how long our vines will produce. We can say that our oldest plants are 50 years old and they are still producing great fruit. Generally as the plants age they produce less fruit. That’s good for our purposes because our plants are so vigorous, we spend an entire growing season pruning those plants to produce less fruit because it’s better for the wine and better for the plant. No signs yet of plants too old to produce great fruit.

Stop by the tasting room for some wine and conversation sometime. I have lots more fun wine info to share with you. As for those steer? Their names are Burberry and MacIntosh , they arrived from Denys Couzzens’s farm by way of the Portsmouth Abby fifteen years ago. We got them to help clear brush…who knew that they would rival our pet dogs as Greenvale’s mascots?

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