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‘Tis the Season for Crushing and Pressing Grapes To Make Fine Wines at Grandfather Vineyard and Winery

Dylan Tatum, winemaker at Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, and Steve Tatum, owner, stand in front of the pressing and crushing area. Photos by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 19, 2014. It’s that time of year again. Once the weather gets cool and grapes ripen, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery crushes and presses tons and tons of grapes to make its stellar line of wines.

Grandfather Vineyard and Winery began pressing the first batch of grapes, which happened to be a zinfandel variety, two weeks ago, and owner Steve Tatum said the pressing and crushing of some 30 tons of grapes – including Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – should last until mid-October.

Tatum said that the white wine varieties tend to come in earlier and will be ready to drink in the spring of 2015, while reds will be pressed, aged in barrels, bottled and ready to drink in 2016.

“Usually, we are couple years behind on the reds,” Tatum said.

Once the weather gets into the teens, predictably in December, the Vidal Blanc grapes that are used for ice wines will be harvested. Naturally frozen on the vine at the vineyard, Grandfather Vineyard’s Ice Wine is an award-winning wine, having won a gold medal at the N.C. State Far in 2011.

Local Grapes, New Wines

New this year for Grandfather Vineyard and Winery is the production of raspberry and possibly blackberry wines. Bethel Valley Farms, a 39-acre farm owned by Johnnie James supplied Grandfather with the fruit for the new creation.

In addition to the grapes that Grandfather and Bethel Valley Farms grow, Tatum said that the a vineyard in Deep Gap and another one in Avery County provide grapes for Tatum to create the finished product. So far, Tatum estimates that 40 percent of its wine utilizes grapes from the High Country.

“Every year we are getting more and more coming on line, and hopefully we get more and more every year,” Tatum said. “There just aren’t that many growers around here.”

An ASU Learning Experience

On Thursday, students from Appalachian State University’s Fermentation Sciences program were on hand to participate in the winemaking process. Last year, students made sparkling hard cider, Tatum said.

“We always do a couple wines with them. They are out here a lot and come out here and go through the whole process,” Tatum said. “It’s a good learning experience for them. They see it going from grapes on the vine to a finished product.”

Tidbits of Winemaking Process

“One major difference between the wine industry and the beer industry is that in the winery, we have one harvest a year where we have to make all the wine that we will have for the entire year. We have about a three-month period during the year when we are crushing, pressing, and fermenting all the wines. It’s long hours during these fall months, but it only comes once a year,” Dylan Tatum, winemaker at Grandfather, said last year when pressing the last batch of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Unlike most white wines, red wine is fermented with the juice still in contact with the grape skins.

“When making red wine, we always ferment our red grapes on the skins because it extracts color and flavor out of the grape. That’s where the red wine gets its color is in the skin,” Dylan Tatum said.

Dylan added that one major factor he uses to determine when to press our dry red wines is the sugar content of the wine/grapes.

“I generally wait until there is no sugar left in the wine for the yeast to metabolize and convert into alcohol. At that point the wine is essentially dry. Then, we press them out and pump the wine into a tank where they will sit and allow all the solids to settle to the bottom. Once they have settled, we will rack the wine off the solids into a barrel where the will sit and barrel age for at least a year,” Dylan said.

For more information about Grandfather Vineyard and Winery, click here or call 828-963-2400.

Grandfather Vineyard and Winery is nestled along the banks of the Watauga River at the base of Grandfather Mountain. See directions here.

Dustin, an assistant winemaker, at Grandfather wears orange overalls while he works.
Dustin takes a sip of wine.
Dr. Seth Cohen, director of ASU’s fermentation sciences program, brought students to the Grandfather Vineyard and Winery earlier this week.
This experience provides students with a hands-on learning experience in the art/science of winemaking.
Students seem to enjoy the process of making wine.
A wine tasting at Grandfather Vineyard and Winery.
The tasting room at Grandfather Vineyard and Winery.