As of Monday, February 3, 2014
GRANDVIEW - Nearly 20 visitors toured the YVCC teaching winery in Grandview last Friday, learning about the wine-making process from the grapevine to the finished product. The "Tour and Taste" event brought visitors from Wine Country RV Park in Prosser to Grandview to learn about viticulture and the program offered by YVCC. The tour started in the tasting room with samples of student-made wines and an introduction by Ag Department Chair Trent Ball. The crowd then visited the school's vineyard, which is four years old now and just started producing grapes last year. Teacher Catherine Jones explained how the students use the vineyard to understand wine grapes better. Jones said the vineyard has three varieties of wine grapes, and explained the differences between the varieties to the tourists. After the visitors returned to the cool environment of the winery, Ball explained how wine grapes are processed. He showed the group the bins the grapes arrive at the winery in and showed the destemmer/crusher used for red grapes. Ball explained to the group that red grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment. White grapes have the juice squeezed out and it's the juice that ferments. He also noted that white wines are fermented at low temperatures for a long time while red wines are fermented relatively quickly in hot temperatures. Students Christa Leach and Maria Rangel gave quick presentations on the viticulture program, explaining how the students drive the flavors of the wine. "The wines are different each year," said Leach. "It depends on what the students want." The tour group visited the winery's lab, and Leach told the group how bench trials are conducted using small amounts of wine blended with flavors until the students find one that they enjoy. "We use the lab from day one," said Leach. "We monitor the whole process from juice to wine." Rangel said the students have to be careful to document everything they add to make sure the vintage can be reproduced when it comes time to finish the blend. The visitors were also treated to an explanation of barrel aging and the effect it has on the wine. Leach described how a vintage that she worked on smells like coffee, and Ball explained to the group that the toasting of the wood used in the barrel was what created the effect. Barrels can be flame toasted, with open fire. One company uses convection ovens to toast the wood. Ball said the process gives the company much more control over the toasting, making it possible to reproduce a particular effect. "With open flame you can't always achieve the same flavors in different barrels," he said. The barrels are marked by the type of wood, whether or not the wood has been toasted and how long the wood was toasted. Ball said that barrels can cost thousands of dollars so many wineries don't use barrels, but put bags of woodchips in their containers to add the wood flavor. The group sampled a new wine made by Leach and Rangel's class that was not quite ready to be bottled yet. Ball explained to them how the aging process made the wine smoother, but said he thought this particular vintage is already nearly ready. The tour ended back in the tasting room. Jones said the room is an integral part of the wine-making classes. "Making wine isn't that difficult," she explained. "But it's hard to sell wine. The students need to know how to present it and sell it." Members of the group asked the students why they had joined the viticulture program. Rangel said she was swayed by economic factors. "Business is good," she said. "It's a field that has many opportunities." Leach said she originally started the program out of curiosity, but the economic factors drove her to finish it. "I know I can get a job," she said. "If I stay here in the valley, or if I return home to New Hampshire I can bring my skills with me." Asked where students go after graduating, Ball said most of them stay in the area and work for local vineyards, but he has some students who are working at California wineries now. YVCC's Grandview winery holds several events each year that are open to the public. They also offer special tours, like last Friday's event, when asked.