Low-moisture grapes darker in color, more intense in flavor

PAONIA — As you might expect, given the time of year, a crystal-bright October morning found winemaker Eames Peterson and his son (and assistant winemaker) Devon working industriously in their cool and dimly lit winery at Alfred Eames Cellars.

They were not making wine, which they obviously would prefer, but rather were tackling the complexities of a recalcitrant printer and its online connection.

“I just want it to print when I push ‘print,’ ” Eames Peterson said, relighting his familiar pipe and heading outside where the warming rays of an early autumn sun beckoned. “I’ll leave it to Devon to fix, he’s much better at these things.”

Eames removed a jacket from a canvas chair and sat, obviously relieved the main push from the 2012 harvest is over.

“We have these tanks of pinot noir and some cabernet sauvignon to do and then it’s into the barrels,” said Peterson, whose winery is at his Puesta del Sol vineyards on the outskirts of Paonia.

He ferments his grapes in large, open concrete vats, very European in tradition and also labor-intensive, with the climbing up and down and being careful not to fall in when pushing down the cap of grapes floating on the fermenting wine.

He’s already looking forward to the 2012 vintage, even though it will be at least 18 months before the first bottle is ready to drink.

“I thought the 2009 vintage was maybe my best but I think this year is going to be even better,” Eames said. “We ran out of water in July and so the berries were small but really intense. I think it’s going to make a fantastic wine.”

Earlier, he had leaned over his tank of fermenting pinot grapes and sniffed deeply.

“Look, you can even see the difference in my grapes,” he said.

It was true. His low-moisture grapes were darker red and purple, with a more-intense and concentrated nose than the other tank.

“These,” he said, leaning on the larger tank of grapes,” will make a fine wine, but the grapes from my vineyard are something special.”

Grape growers don’t like small berried-grapes, which weigh less than water-plumped grapes and bring in less money when sold to winemakers.

Winemakers, conversely, want the smaller grapes because the flavors are more concentrated. Your wine production might be smaller, but it’s generally agreed the wines are sharper and more intense.

“I only have a ton of my grapes and four tons of the others,” said Peterson, who will use his grapes in a special reserve bottling.

A ton of grapes makes enough wine for 2 1/3 barrels, with about 25 cases in each barrel.

Eames said most of the larger commercial wineries, which each year produce millions of bottles of wine, look more toward consistency, which is what their clients want.

“But that’s not my style,” he said. “Wine changes ever year and each bottle is a reflection of what you get in the harvest.”

He relit his pipe and recalled he’s been making wine for more than four decades. His first memorable wine was made 38 years ago, he said.

It was dandelion wine, he said, and you had to pick every bit of green before fermenting the sun-yellow heads.

“I had a bag of flowers, oh, like this,” he said, stretching his arms and smiling at the memory. “It really was a great white wine, and I’d say it was one of the best white wines I’ve tasted.”

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