Making Wine
At Hilltop Farm
The Chemistry of Wine       Getting Started        Progress        The Process         After The Harvest

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Merrily and I are often asked why we became interested in making wine. Other than temporary insanity we have no logical explanation. However, this strange hobby has persisted for many years and has contributed to our zest for living.

Each year we dream that this year we will make that world-renowned wine. To date, this has not happened but our dream persists.


The Chemistry of Wine
Having received a major in chemistry in undergraduate school has contributed to my interest and challenge. I thought that careful chemical analyses and learning all I could by reading and attending courses on winemaking might contribute to the fulfillment of that dream. While we have had some successes in national competition*, still that great wine remains a dream. Perhaps next year?

The carrying out of our dream started with spending a morning with Dr. Einset who was in charge of grape and wine research at Cornell Experiment Farm at Geneva NY. He was very helpful with his advice on viticulture and varieties of grapes that are cold hearty enough to withstand our cold winters.

Getting Started
We found that putting up trellises and planting the grapes were more work that we anticipated. However with the help of our son and daughter-in-law, this was accomplished. Here is a picture of the early stage of our vineyard. After the first year, the vines have to be pruned. Winter time is the ideal time (for the heath of the vines) to prune the vines but often proves to be a difficult task because of our cold winters.

Here is a picture of Merrily working on a cold day
as you can see from the thermometer

Gloves and hand warmers were a big help. It is only fair to admit that our enthusiasm for pruning in the cold has lessened as the years have gone by.


This picture was taken several years later. Note how the how the vines have grown. Here Merrily is picking grapes for our September harvest and proudly displays the result of our labors.


The Process
In the fall we wait for the grapes to build enough sugar to make a proper wine. In this area we shoot for a sugar content of 18 to 22%. Here our son Tom is checking the sugar content of the juice with a refractometer. The refractometer is a big help as it requires only a drop of juice to get an accurate reading of the sugar content.

First the grapes are put through a stemmer-crusher as shown here. As the name indicates, this crushes the grapes and removes the stems. From there the crushed fruit goes into a press where the juice is squeezed out.The juice is then placed in carboys (usually five and seven gallons distillata bottles), yeast is added (about one gram per five gallon of juice) to the juice and fermentation hopefully follows in a fewdays. As seen in the picture, a water seal is placed on the top of the carboy which allows carbon dioxide to escape without allowing oxygen to enter the carboy. The water seal is partially filled with water. Once wine is fermented, it should be protected from oxygen as much as possible.

When wine has stopped fermenting and the dregs settle our to the bottom of the carboy, it is racked (siphoned off) into a clean carboy making an attempt separate the clear wine form the sediment in the bottom of the jug. This is repeated several times.

Here one of our granddaughters, Beamie, assisting me.


After the Harvest
In this picture, we see the wines that has been placed in carboys. At this stage various tests are carried. It is at this time that we can add various chemicals or remove some of the undesirable tastes in the wine. To me, this is the most interesting and challenging phase of winemaking. At times it allows the winemaker to use his knowledge to make an undrinkable wine into a drinkable wine. At other times, it permits the winemaker the chance to convert a mediocre wine to a very pleasant wine.