Preserving the essence of summer doesn’t always mean boiling peaches and stuffing them into Mason jars. For thousands of years, winemakers have been refining ways of turning summer’s fruits into intoxicating beverages whose flavors and aromas conjure up the season in a glass. While grapes may be the easiest and most straightforward fruits to use for wine—for technical reasons including an often-close-to-ideal balance of acids and sugars to support fermentation—they’re not the only raw material for libations. Other sorts of fruits are admittedly more complicated to make into wine, but many area winemakers have enthusiastically embraced the challenge.
“Fruit wines are different, but they’re also not,” said Shawn Verity, winemaker for Seneca Shores Wine Cellars and their sister winery, Fruit Yard Winery on Route 14 in Dundee. Making a fruit wine requires the same skill-set he uses for grape wines—checking and correcting acid levels before beginning fermentation, because non-grape fruits are often more acidic; chaptalizing or adding sugar so the fermentation will continue until the alcohol content allows a stable finished wine.
“That’s in my toolbox because you might do that with grapes, too,” he said. “So it’s no different from learning how to make a Cabernet Sauvignon. And having the right equipment helps, he said, because a machine that pulverizes stone fruits makes the process go more smoothly than having to mash peaches by hand, as he did one year. Verity has made a variety of non-grape wines including cranberry, apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, pear, apple, strawberry and raspberry.
Trumansburg area berry farmer John Tamburello of Glen Haven Farm Winery makes wine from his own blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. He lets blueberries stay in contact with their skins as is usually done during the making of red wine, because the blueberry wine would otherwise be a light color and Tamburello doesn’t want people to confuse it with a rosé. The raspberries and blackberries, however, don’t need to sit on their skins and follow a process more like the making of white wine, although the product is a deep red.
Tamburello makes both dry and semi-sweet blueberry wines. The former presents like a Bordeaux bottle, while the latter is not as sweet as some might expect. Glen Haven blueberry wines are sometimes stored in oak barrels like a red wine, imparting additional flavors.
Tamburello’s raspberry and blackberry wines are sold in smaller bottles, like many dessert wines, but he ramps back the sweetness somewhat because, “I want to drink these too,” he said.
Chateau Renaissance’s owner/winemaker Patrice De May (Fish Hatchery Road in Bath) might be the dean of non-grape wines—he makes more than 15 of them and also teaches the process at Corning Community College. One of DeMay’s signature techniques involves using the wild yeasts already present on fruits to enhance their character during and after fermentation.
“A lot of wineries don’t do this in this country, and it’s a shame,” he said. “The yeast found on the plant is so much more elaborate. Every yeast has its own aroma compound . When I go back home to France, the French wineries are asking why American don’t use the wild yeast—are they nuts or something? The old way is better.”
In addition to using stone and berry fruits, DeMay has also begun making rose-petal, violet and lavender wines, which he said have become wildly popular. And as unusual as they might seem to an American wine taster, they’re better-known in Europe. “They’ve done violet wines in the south of France, they have a violet festival there, but those fruit wines are not exported,” he said.
While fruit wines sound like a mid-afternoon aperitif or something to serve with dessert—because currently most are on the sweeter end of the tasting spectrum, the diligent taster will discover ones to enjoy with a meal as well as ones to pair with cheese or cheesecake.
Sadie Lewis, winemaker for Torrey Ridge (Route 14, Penn Yan), said, ”I find that wine and food pairings are much the same with meads, fruit wines, and ciders as they are with your traditional grape wines. Mead, fruit wines, and hard ciders - that’s a huge world that many people overlook. Mead has come a long way since the Vikings. With time all of us have found different methods that work better to create a product that is, well, for lack of a different term, better.” She suggests using non-grape wines and meads in cooking in much the same way as a grape wine would be used.
Tamburello offers a few additional gourmet suggestions. A fruit wine, particularly a berry wine, might find its way into a salad dressing as a vinaigrette; it might be cooked into a reduction to be used as a sauce over poultry and served as wine makes an interesting counterpoint to grilled meat. Some wines also lend themselves to blending with sparkling wine or champagne to “dress it up” he said. In the glass or on the plate, summer never has to end. §