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Jul. 7, 2020 | Tuesday
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Wine Country with Victoria Gilbert: Harvest is in the air
Rosewood Estates winemaker Ryan Corrigan chats with wine writer Victoria Gilbert. (Supplied)

The air is crisp and the sky a solid blue swath above plump grapes, soaking up the last of the fall warmth before their time outside will come to a close.

Those delicate orbs are dancing in the sunlight right now, tucked in nicely between the rows of vines along the Beamsville Bench.

Harvest is in the air and the clusters hanging between reddening vine leaves, as pretty as a painting, are beckoning you to pluck and taste. Winemaker Ryan Corrigan, of Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery, is doing just that as he slips a juicy Sauvignon Blanc into his mouth.

“We pick on what we call skin ripeness rather than just sugar,” he says of the harvest. “This is something you learn from the old guys in France. They just look at when those skins are perfectly ripe.”

Like seemingly everything in life, a balance of acidity and sweetness is what winemakers like Corrigan are waiting to achieve; tasting and walking the vineyards, watching the weather pensively, hoping for as many clear sunny days as possible before making the commitment to harvest their grapes.

The Sauvignon Blanc is being harvested this week and like an attentive lover, Corrigan shows a lot of affection to these grapes from the vineyard to the barrels.

“Understanding the geographic similarities to one of my favourite wine regions in the world, being the Loire Valley, knowing the complexities that Sauvignon Blanc can offer from Sancerre, it really spurred me to want to understand how to make that wine here in Niagara,” says Corrigan.

Wines made from the pretty bright green Sauvignon Blanc grape were born in France's Loire Valley. Once turned into wine, Sauvignon Blanc is fresh in your mouth with crisp acidity and beautiful minerality.

Rosewood takes a “low-intervention” approach to making wines, which means many things depending on the artist creating the wine, but the winemaker is not manipulating the taste of the wine by adding to it. There is a solid argument to be made that low intervention, sometimes called “natural wines,” taste markedly different.

“Using new technologies with old world traditions, we ferment the Sauvignon Blanc in a very oxidative way. That means we are not adding sulphur to the juice. We are allowing the wild yeast to ferment the juice in very old oak barrels and then it ages in the barrel for about 18 months. This is different from most of the new world-style of Sauvignon Blanc, which is fermented in stainless steel with selected yeasts and at colder temperatures.”

Corrigan is exactly the type of winemaker you hope is overseeing those lovely grapes before you. As you bask in the Niagara sun along with the grapes, you may wish the harvesters would leave them just where they are.

This is one of the great privileges of a winemaker, to call the moment in time when those heavy clusters are shaken off forever. That call may be made today, maybe tomorrow. And this decision will result in the final taste in your mouth when you open a bottle and pay homage to the grapes of now.

“These wines, without getting too esoteric about it, are much bigger than us. They outlive us in many cases, so every year tells a story in Niagara and if I can be a vector this goes through, then this is not a waste of life in my opinion,” says Corrigan, with all the seriousness of an artist who is about to begin a painting he hopes will delight the viewer, or in this case, the taster.

* NOTL resident Victoria Gilbert has been telling the stories of wine people in Canada and abroad through print and video for 15 years.