Wineries like to promote “ripe” vintages such as 2020 and 2012, when vines use the dry, sunny, warm weather to produce very sweet grapes. This might lead some to believe that high sugar is the only measure of ripeness. Not so fast! When judging ripeness and deciding when it’s time to harvest, winemakers also pay attention to physiological ripeness, the condition of the skins, seeds and pulp of the berries. They also taste the grapes to check for flavor ripeness. Finally, winemakers measure the acid levels in the grapes and wait for them to drop to an acceptable level such that the wine won’t taste sour.
In 2021, our grapes got very ripe in three out of the four ripeness criteria—physiological ripeness, flavor ripeness and low acid level. Grape vines in the Finger Lakes had a difficult time achieving sugar ripeness because they were so waterlogged from the rainy season. As a result, the 2021 wines have great flavor and a soft mouthfeel (from the low acid), but low alcohol.
If you remember your basic fermentation formula, you’ll recall that Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + Carbon Dioxide. With lower-than-average sugar in the grapes, the wines have lower-than-average alcohol. Instead of the 12-14% alcohol you tasted in our 2020 wines, you’ll see a range of 9-11% in the 2021s. That may not sound like a big difference, but it’s 20-25% lower alcohol. You’ll probably notice a delicacy and even a juiciness to the 2021s, both hallmarks of low-alcohol wine.
Speaking of low-alcohol wine, it’s a big “trend” in the industry right now. For health and lifestyle reasons, many people are looking for alcoholic beverages with lower strength. Some California wine brands are using a process called reverse osmosis to remove alcohol from their finished wines to capitalize on this market. Meanwhile, here in the Finger Lakes, Mother Nature gave us a pure and natural batch of low-alcohol wines in 2021!
Could we have added table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to our unfermented juice to up the alcohol? Yes, we could have. This practice is called chaptalization, and it’s been used widely in the wine world for centuries. However, our goal at Silver Thread is to produce pure and natural wines that reflect each vintage. 2021 gave us lower-sugar grapes, so we used them to produce lower-alcohol wines. Call them “crushable,” “session wines,” or just plain delicious. We’re excited about them and can’t wait for you to try them, too.
“Never before have I experienced two back-to-back vintages where the styles of wines were so different as 2020 and 2021,” said Paul Brock, co-owner and winemaker. Thanks for coming along on this roller-coaster of a wine adventure with us!