As you drive around the North Fork, you likely will see many teams out in the vineyard working to ensure the grapes ripen to their full potential throughout the growing season. While often an overlooked component of the winemaking process, good vineyard management is essential to good winemaking.
A wine is only as good as the grapes it comes from and good vineyard practices throughout the year mean less intervention and a more hands off approach can be taken by the winemaker and the winemaking team once the fruit arrives at the winery.
There are two main ways to harvest grapes, by hand and by machine. At Suhru, we hand harvest the majority of our grapes. The decision to hand harvest vs mechanical harvest depends on a multitude of factors including the grape varietal, condition of the grapes, and style of wine you are trying to make. Let's explore the differences!
For many grape varieties and styles, particularly early ripening white wine grapes, mechanical harvesting is a more efficient and cost effective approach. In mechanical harvesting a harvester machine straddles the grape vine, gently shaking the vine which dislodges the berries dropping them into a conveyor belt that carries them to a holding bin. When the harvester reaches the end of the row the holding bin is emptied into a gondola which then transports the grapes to the winery to be loaded into the press.
Mechanical harvesters are a great option for larger vineyards that lay on flat level ground. They can very quickly harvest an entire block of fruit and get it to the winery and loaded into the press in a fraction of the time it would take to hand harvest the same block.
At Suhru we machine harvest our Pinot Grigio. The vineyard where it is grown is well suited to a mechanical harvester and it allows our early ripening Pinot Grigio berries to arrive at the winery very quickly after being harvested which is important for machine harvested fruit as the berries are often split open during the harvesting process.
Hand harvesting, while extremely labor intensive, allows our vineyard team to examine the fruit as they move through the vineyard, selecting only the best grape clusters and discarding the bruised, damaged or underripe fruit. A skilled hand harvester can pick between one and one and a half tons of grapes in a 10 hour day, which is the equivalent of 800-1,200 bottles of wine or 66-100 cases.
While more expensive, laborious, and time consuming there are a number of reasons to hand harvest your grapes:
- Allows for more precision. The grapes are better protected during harvesting greatly reducing the possibility of oxidation due to damaged skins.
- Winemaking Style. For a number of styles including méthode champenoise and some styles of white wine we whole cluster press, meaning that the entire cluster, stems, seeds, skins and all are loaded into the press and discarded as one once the juice has been pressed out.
- Fruit quality. When you machine harvest all the berries are mixed in however when you hand harvest as the vineyard crew is moving from cluster to cluster they can pick out any berries damaged by birds or any that have not fully developed ensuring that only the best berries make it to the winery.
We would like to take a moment to applaud the hard working men and women who cultivate and care for our grape vines throughout the year. THANK YOU for all that you do, we could not do it without you!
Spring has arrived and with it comes the beginning of a new growing season on the North Fork. Over the past month the buzz has begun in the agriculture community as plant nurseries open their doors and farm stands apply a fresh coat of paint to prepare for the coming season. In the wine industry attention turns to the vineyard as vineyard crews finish the winter pruning and eyes turn to the shoots of the vine to watch for bud break.
The start of a new season in wine country begins when there is new growth on the vine, also known as bud break. The warmer weather of Spring causes the soil to warm up and alerts the vines that it is time to wake up from their winter sleep. The sap begins to flow and the buds form new leaves. For the winemaker and team, all eyes will be on the growth of the vines and managing the vineyard until harvest.
Bud break is quickly approaching and all eyes have turned to the vineyards as the first bud marks the beginning of the 2022 growing season!
Over the last week the focus in the winery has switched over to the red harvest, so we thought we'd take a quick moment to review how red wine is made. Once our red fruit has been hand-harvested and delivered by tractor to the winery the grapes are destemmed and put through the must chiller which brings the berries to a consistent 50 degrees and agitates the berries, bursting them open. These berries, juice skins, seeds and all are pumped into open-top tanks where the magic of fermentation occurs.
When the internal temperature of the tank has reached 80 degrees it is time to inoculate! The grape must (freshly crushed juice, skins, seeds, and stems) is inoculated with the winemaker's desired yeast and begins fermentation. When we talk about fermentation in wine we are referring to the chemical process of yeast cells consuming the naturally occurring sugars in the grape juice, producing alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide and heat. During the ferment as CO2 is released it rises, lifting the skins to the top of the tank.
All of the tanks at the winery are temperature controlled by heating/cooling jackets that are built into the tank. These "jackets" control the internal temperature of the tank which is key during fermentation as yeast likes very specific conditions. Too warm and the yeast will overheat and die, too cold and the yeast will fall dormant and fermentation stops.
We need to ensure that the juice stays in contact with the skins throughout the fermentation process as the skins are what give red wine its color and tannin. As a result, throughout the fermentation process "punch-downs" or "pump-overs" occur regularly. At Suhru we use the punch-down method to ensure our red wines extract all of the desired color, flavor and tannin from the grape skins. Punch-downs are done mechanically by using a large mechanical foot or punch-down device which breaks up the grape skin cap that forms at the surface of the tank and reintroduces the skins into the juice. This process is done three times a day at the beginning of fermentation, gradually slowing down as the rate of fermentation slows and less and less CO2 is released. The time necessary to complete fermentation can take anywhere from 14 days up to a month depending on the healthiness of the yeast and the amount of sugar in the juice.
Once the fermentation process is complete and all of the sugars have been converted to alcohol the grape skins settle to the bottom of the tank and the juice is drained off and pumped into a new tank. In order to ensure we get every last drop of wine from the settled skins, the remaining grape skins are shoveled out of the tank and forklifted over to the press where we extract the remaining wine.
From here the wine is racked into oak barrels where it undergoes secondary fermentation or malolactic fermentation. During this second fermentation process the sharp, astringent malic acid is converted into lactic acid which gives the wine a softer, rounder mouth-feel and more pleasant drinking experience.
Once this process is complete the wine is racked into different barrels where it will stay in our temperature controlled barrel room for the next few months as it ages. Throughout the aging process the wines will be regularly checked and tested to assess a number of key components to ensure the wine is developing as expected.
Before bottling, the red wine is filtered to make sure it is clear and free of any microbial bacteria. The bottles are then aged for three to twelve months, and released once our winemaker deems them ready for consumption.
Checkout our Red Wines!
People are always surprised when we tell them that we don’t own any vineyards. One of the first questions we are asked when guests arrive at our Tasting House is "where are your vineyards" to which we respond that we source our fruit for vineyards across the North Fork of Long Island and one in the Finger Lakes.
When we started Suhru Wines in 2008 we made the decision to source, or purchase our fruit as opposed to plant our vineyards. This decision was made for a variety of reasons, two of the main factors being time and cost. As a new (at the time) winery brand it was a substantial financial and time commitment to plant and cultivate a vineyard. Vineyards can take anywhere from four to eight years to produce wine quality fruit depending on the varietals and styles you are looking to produce. Additionally, by sourcing our fruit it allows us to focus solely on quality. Sourcing fruit gives us the flexibility to work with many different vineyards, allowing us to select vineyards that each grow the particular varietals we make, the best. This ensures that we use the highest quality fruit available for each of our wines.
Fruit sourcing is a very common occurrence in the wine industry, even by wineries with estate vineyards as each region has a variety of micro-climates which influence the development of different grape varietals in very specific ways. By not limiting ourselves to one location it gives us the flexibility to adjust and adapt to the ever changing weather patterns and climate changes that we see in any given season. We also have the option of bringing on a new varietal, think Teroldego, without having to plant the vines and then wait four or more years before the vines are ready and producing fruit.
Our winemaker Russell’s more than thirty years in the industry have allowed him to make many close and meaningful relationships with the various growers we work with both on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes (where we grow our Riesling fruit). He keeps in close contact and communication with them throughout the growing season which allows us to have a lot of input on what happens in the vineyard.
Russell, and our whole team at Suhru, visit the vineyards on Long Island regularly throughout the growing season to monitor the progress, yields and techniques used in the field. We know what is happening throughout the growing season and are consulted about the optimal time to pick or harvest the fruit. Therefore we have no surprises when the fruit is harvested. The only way to have more input is to grow the fruit ourselves. Although that might be an option at some point in the future, it requires a pretty large initial investment and upkeep. Growing grapes and making wine are two different skill sets. We are choosing to focus all of our attention on what we do best, making the best possible wine from the highest quality fruit!
Our first Cabernet Franc under the Suhru label, we are very excited to share this much anticipated new wine! This classic expression of a cool climate Cabernet Franc has a rich garnet hue, with bright fruit and notes of black currant, raspberry, and a hint of anise on the nose. This bold red has a nice mid palate with notes of mocha and cocoa, fine lingering tannins and a light smokiness on the finish with the slightest hint of vanilla.
This varietal 2019 Cabernet Franc is blended with 12% Teroldego and 6% Merlot to enhance the fruit and body of the wine. The three varieties were each fermented in open top tanks and punched down during their time on skins. The goal being to extract color and tannin without the astringency, before pressing to retain the vibrant fruit notes. The wine is then aged for 14 months in a combination of Hungarian and French oak.
In 2019 we saw a very nice growing season and were very happy with the fruit intensity and ripe tannin structure of this wine. Cabernet Franc grows beautifully on the North Fork of Long Island and the 2019 harvest was no exception. In the last several years we have seen this varietal continue to receive critical acclaim and rightly so. Russell, our winemaker, has seen dramatic changes to the perception of Cabernet Franc during his winemaking career. He made his first stand alone varietal Cabernet Franc at Pellegrini Vineyards in 1994 from vines that were originally planted to be used for blending rather than for a stand alone varietal wine. Since then Cabernet Franc has grown to be a staple of Long Island. Russell (and the whole Suhru family) are very happy to share Suhru’s first vintage of Cabernet Franc (and his 26th vintage of Cab Franc as a Long Island winemaker). We hope you enjoy it!
This beautiful, bold red will pair wonderfully with rich, fuller meals such as roasted pork, turkey, stews, tomato based sauces, lamb, and roasted duck. An excellent cheese wine, try with brie, goat and bleu cheeses!
Learn More About our 2019 Cabernet Franc!
With Labor Day upon us and a cool Fall chill creeping into the air we find ourselves trading in a chilled glass of white for a richer, deeper red. One of our favorite Fall wines is Shiraz! This beautiful light to medium bodied red has nice soft flavors with a hint of spice which bring to mind cool days traipsing through a pumpkin patch, and sweater weather!
Whether you are looking for a wine to enjoy after a long day at work, a glass to pair with a fall meal complete with richer meats and fall vegetables, or simply a wine to enjoy while watching the leaves change, a bottle of Shiraz is always a great choice!
Shiraz vs Syrah, What's the Difference?
At Suhru Wines we make a Shiraz as opposed to a Syrah. Two different styles of the same grape variety, generally speaking Syrah is made in the Northern hemisphere, specifically France’s Rhône Valley, whereas you tend to find winemaking regions producing Shiraz style wines in the Southern hemisphere, mainly in Australia. Given that our winemaker, Russell Hearn, is Australian we are making a Shiraz here at Suhru!
Shirazes are known for being rich, lush, riper, and more fruit-forward wines that are typically made in warm climates, although they are made in several cool climates across the globe, including the Margaret River Region in Western Australia as well as the North Fork of Long Island. Cool climate Shirazes and Syrahs tend to have brighter acidity and bright red fruit notes.
A Closer Look at Suhru Shiraz
A rarity in the United States, our cool climate Shiraz pays homage to winemaker Russell Hearn's native country Australia. This expressive wine has rich red fruit aromas with a hint of cardamom. The raspberry and cherry notes flow onto the palate with appealing cola flavors carrying through to the finish. With super soft, elegant tannins, a bright finish, and a light hint of oak, the 2019 is sure to please! Fermented in open top tanks, our 2019 Shiraz juice spent 10-12 days in contact with the grape skins before being pressed, allowing for the bold flavor and rich color. The wine was then transferred into barrel where it is aged for 6 months in American oak. The 2019 vintage is 93% Syrah and 7 % Teroldego.
Want to Learn more about this wine? Checkout our 2019 Shiraz!
Summer months call for crisp, bright, refreshing white wines during the day and bold, rich, full-bodied reds to pair with BBQ or sip around the fire at night. Our Ember is just such a wine, crafted with summer evenings around the bonfire in mind!
As soon as June turns to July I find myself reaching for a bottle of Ember again and again. This delicious Bordeaux Blend comprised of the five main Bordeaux red varieties—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot—has rich red and black fruit notes, mellow tannins and a rich, round finish with just a hint of oak! Pair it with a July 4th or summer BBQ and you can't go wrong!
A Note from Winemaker Russell Hearn
The beauty of red wine blends is that irregardless of the vintage a winemaker can adjust the blend to stylize a very similar wine year over year which still showcasing the best of that vinatge. In warm years you are able to use larger percentages of the later ripening varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) with the reverse in cooler years, focusing on larger percentages of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. This adjustment from year to year allows us to ensure we produce a perfectly balanced wine from the first wine that hints your toungue through the mid palate and onto the finish. With our blend as well as with all of our wines, I aim to ensure that we are always showcase fruit expression while maintaining a balance of tannin throughout the wine.
A Closer Look at Suhru Ember
This classic Bordeaux blend has notes of cranberry, cassis, mixed spice and thyme on the nose giving way to red fruit notes on the mid-palate with hints of raspberry, dark cherry and cranberry with hints of vanilla. Soft mellow tannins with a medium full bodied finish. The blend is comprised of 49% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot and aged for 12 months in Hungarian oak. The five different varietals were each fermented in open top tanks and punched down during their time on skins. The goal is to extract color and tannin without remaining too long (14 – 18 days) on skins before pressing to retain the vibrant fruit notes.
Want to Learn more about this wine? Checkout our 2018 Ember!
If you have spent much time on the North Fork of Long Island or in any wine country in the Fall you likely know that September and October are harvest season. Typically starting the second week of September on the North Fork the white wine grapes begin reaching optimal ripeness and harvest season begins!
When the grapes have reached optimal ripeness they are harvested either by machine or by hand depending on the winemaker's preference and brought into the winery. Once they arrive at the winery, the grapes are destemmed and then loaded into the press where all of that delicious grape juice is gently extracted from the grape skins.
Fun Fact: The sugar content in a grape is measured using a system of measurement called "Brix" the higher the brix number, the more sugar in a grape.
Once the grapes have been pressed, the grape juice is pumped into a tank where it is chilled and settled. The settled juice is then racked off any remaining grape pulp and brought back up to temperature to prepare to start the fermentation process. At this point the juice is inoculated with yeast and fermentation begins.
During fermentation the yeast cells consume the naturally occurring sugars in the grape juice. As the yeast consumes the sugar it produces alcohol and releases carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 as it is released creates a protective barrier at the top of the tank, preventing oxygen from coming in contact with the wine. Once all of the sugars have been consumed and converted into alcohol the yeast cells die and precipitate out of the liquid, settling to the bottom of the tank. Once everything has settled, the clear wine is racked (aka transferred) off the solids (aka dead yeast cells) into a new tank where it undergoes the final finishing touches (heat stabilization, cold stabilization, filtering, etc) before it is bottled, chilled and served!
Learn More About Our White Wines
At Suhru we make a number of crisp, bright, dry white wines with each grape variety specifically selected to offer a wonderful compliment to our local cuisine. If you are looking for a big, bold white wine with lots of acidity look no further than our Pinot Grigio! Made in the Italian style, this dry white wine is crisp and refreshing making it an excellent compliment to our local seafood and a perfect wine for sitting by the pool, zipping around the bay, or lounging on the beach!
For a wine with softer flavors leaning into the minerality of the grape our Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice! While also an excellent accompaniment to our local seafood and all of the wonderful outdoor activities available to us here on the North Fork, one of our favorite pairings for this wine is a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and fresh local oysters! The brininess of the oysters offers the perfect balance to the soft, subtle fruit flavors and light minerality present in the glass.
Last but certainly not least is our Dry Riesling! Made using fruit grown in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, this fruity white wine offers a dynamic wide range of flavors. Dry Riesling is commonly referred to in the wine world as one of the most versatile food pairing wines because while it has all of the brightness and crispness of a dry white wine it also has a small amount of residual sugar that softens that bright acidity allowing it to compliment a much wider range of foods than your typical white wine. The classic pairing suggestions for Riesling are Asian dishes such as sushi and curries and while both of those are delicious we tend to gravitate towards blackened fish tacos and dry rub BBQ with this wine. It's a great wine to play around with as you'll see as you taste it, every sip holds something slightly different. Happy sipping!
Shop Suhru's White Wines!
From the outside looking in, winemaking is a glamorous profession filled with days spent drinking wine, nibbling cheese, and wandering the vineyards. And while we do do all of that sometimes, the majority of a winemaker's time is spent doing the hard work. As our winemaker Russell is so fond of saying, "Winemaking is 70% sanitation, 20% perspiration (doing the sanitation), 9% inspiration, and 1% degustation but only at the end of the day!" However the exception to that is blending season!
At Suhru, one of our favorite activities (and not just because we get to sit and taste) are blending trials, which are the fascinating and often painstaking process of selecting the best expression of a wine in that particular vintage.
When you are making a blend, be it red or white, you have two main courses of action. You can either make a field blend or a traditional blend. Field blends are made up of two or more types of grapes planted alongside each other in the vineyard, brought in together at harvest, and co-fermented in the winery. The other method— which we employ at Suhru—is to make a traditional blend, harvesting, fermenting, and barrel aging each of the varietals individually allowing each to develop independently before bringing the flavors together.
Each Spring—typically in April and May—we blend our reds. The main blend that tends to take the majority of our focus is Ember, our Bordeaux style red blend. Once our winemaker has deemed the individual varietals ready, he puts together a series of blends for us as a group to blind taste. After collecting barrel samples of each of the wines—Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot—he pours them into labeled beakers and assesses them each individually for their strengths and weaknesses. It is these strengths and weaknesses that determine how the wines will be blended together. For example, if we had an early winter then the later ripening reds (think Petit Verdot) may not have developed as fully so may not have as much tannic structure in which case we will lean more heavily on the early ripening varietals (think Merlot and Malbec), and barrel influence.
Once the wines have been assessed individually, Russell measures out samples of each variety into a graduated cylinder using a pipette. By doing this he is meticulously selecting the amount of each varietal as he blends them together into a series of different blends (typically 4-5) that best showcase the different directions we can take the wine. Of these 4-5 blends he typically makes one that he feels is the best overall expression, one that mimics as closely as possible the previous vintage and then 2-3 that fall in between those two starting points.
After all that work (by Russell) comes the fun part! We all get together and taste the blends blind so that none of us knows which wines are which. As we taste we discuss each blend, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses, what we like and dislike, providing feedback that Russell will take back to the winery with him to fine tune the blends. This is our opportunity to give any and all feedback and leave our thumbprint on the wines. We repeat this blending and tasting process as many times as necessary until we find the one that we all love and best represents the vintage, our style, and the individual varieties in the wine!
While of course important work, this is one of our favorite decisions to make and is a great way for us as a winemaking family to come together to share ideas, opinions, and shape the next vintage of Suhru Wines!
Learn More About Ember, our Bordeaux Blend
With the warm weather upon us we cannot get enough of this Merlot! While the days are getting warmer we are still enjoying cooler nights and I for one have found myself repeatedly grabbing a glass of Merlot to enjoy in the backyard by the fire. Something about the rich fruit notes and soft finish makes it the perfect compliment to the warm days turned cool nights.
Our 2017 T'Jara Merlot is fruity and luscious and everything you want in a red wine this time of year! Made in the classic old-world style, the 2017 Merlot is medium to full bodied with ripe red fruit notes of raspberry and cranberry mixed with dark notes of blueberry, blackberry and plum. Lush and round with fine tannins this easy red sipper pairs beautifully with food and stands up nicely on its own!
Keep an eye on the Blog for a few fun "Cooking with Suhru" recipes coming out soon!
Why Is Merlot So Prolific on the North Fork?
Merlot is the most widely planted variety on the East End of Long Island. This varietal flourishes in our cool climate region and ripens mid harvest, usually in the second or third week of October. Being one of the earlier ripening reds planted out here means that the fruit ripens and is harvested prior to most of the major weather events that threaten the crop, think hurricanes and early frosts.
In a hotter region this variety loses its sweet fruit aromatics and mid palate fullness. Due to the hotter temperatures the fruit ripens more rapidly resulting in higher sugar content in the grapes which leads to higher alcohol in the wine which overwhelms the tannic structure of the varietal.
While you can grow Merlot in a variety of different regions (it is the second most widely planted grape variety on the globe), it is well established that the Bordeaux region in France is growing some of the best Merlot. If you take a closer look at the Bordeaux region, you may notice that we on Long Island are located on almost the same latitude meaning that we have a very similar climate, weather patterns, and growing conditions making us an excellent region to grow Merlot.
A Closer Look at the Vineyard
Our 2017 Merlot is made under our T'Jara label. T'Jara is the phonetic spelling of an Aboriginal word that means "place where I am from". For all of our T'Jara wines, they are grown at a dedicated vineyard in Mattituck which is located on an elevated, south facing parcel of land. This is an important feature as south facing land means that the vines get more direct sun exposure during the day leading to better grape development. In addition, the elevated nature of this piece of land in relation to the surrounding properties allows for good wind and air flow throughout the growing season.
When it comes to vineyard management air flow is key. Particularly on the North Fork where we tend to get humid and wet days during the growing season, the ample air flow ensures that the humidity does not collect around the vines which would lead to added disease pressure and rot.
In the 2017 vintage, we saw a warm growing season with a very dry Harvest period, which is what you want in the vineyard. Grape vines are one of the few crops that like a little drought pressure. Grape vines like well drained soil so for a grape grower, a dry spell is ideal because we can turn on our irrigation and control the amount of water the vines receive. In addition to the daytime weather, in 2017 the Fall evenings in the weeks leading up to harvesting in early October saw lower than normal temperatures which allowed for
longer 'hang time' on the vine before picking which resulted in the very expressive fruitiness of this wine.
Want to learn more about this vintage? Checkout our 2017 Merlot!