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Winemaking at Chankaska Creek

Harvest and Sorting

As the warmth and growing cycle of summer begins to ebb, and harvest time approaches, our winemaker starts a daily ritual. He strolls throughout the vineyards to observe, touch and taste the ripening grapes. An experienced palate and some basic analysis back in our lab can determine if our grapes have reached their ideal peak for harvesting.

Staying true to winemaking tradition, all grapes at Chankaska are picked by hand. This process commences early in the morning to ensure the grapes come to the cellar at a cool temperature and in optimum condition. This is an act of love and reverence for authentic winemaking that we guarantee enriches the flavor of our wines.

After harvest, our grapes enter the sorting phase for purity and consistency of flavor. Individual clusters are sorted on a vibrating sorting table that allows us to eliminate leaves, stems, raisins, or unripe berries. This time-consuming step is just the beginning, for when making fine wine, this care and attention to every detail can make all the difference.

Red Wine Making

When making red wine, our first step is to feed our carefully selected grapes through the destemmer. In this process, most of the grapes are left uncrushed to allow for greater extraction of concentrated and pure flavors during fermentation. After destemming, the grapes are gently pumped into a temperature-controlled fermenter. Here, they are chilled for four days, after which, a specially selected strain of yeast is added to initiate fermentation.

Throughout the fermentation process, the wine is monitored daily and various techniques are utilized to keep the wines mixed and the yeast happy and healthy. As the yeast converts sugar to alcohol and color and flavors are slowly extracted from the grape skins, the winemaker samples the wine daily and decides when the wine is ready for pressing and for putting into barrels.

All red wines at Chankaska are aged in French, American (Minnesotan) and Hungarian white oak barrels. At any given time 20 to 60 percent new barrels are in rotation. As wines age in barrel, a certain slow moving magic occurs. The wines soften, get smoother, and gain overall complexity.

Once barrel aging is complete, our winemaker conducts blending tests to determine if any further varietal blending is needed in order to produce a balanced wine. Sometimes the wines are perfect as they are in their pure state.  At other times, our winemaker may make the judgment that the wine can be improved through the judicious use of blending. This art of blending is truly the master craft of the winemaker.

The last step is a delicate filtration process prior to bottling to ensure the highest quality possible. This then completes the cycle and brings our grapes full circle from vine to table. Enjoy!

White Wine Making

After hand picking and hand sorting on our sorting table, our white grapes’ journey deviates from its red sister. Whole clusters are carefully fed into our gentle bladder press, which can hold up to 1.5 tons of grapes. The juice is pressed out of the grape berries and is transferred to a temperature controlled tank, where it is then chilled and pre-clarified. After the clear juice is separated off of the solids, a specially selected strain of yeast is added to begin primary fermentation.

Chankaska's white wine fermentations are kept very cool in our temperature-controlled tanks, and are allowed to progress slowly with daily monitoring for flavor and aromatic development. During fermentation, yeast consumes the grape sugars and converts them to alcohol. Once all of the sugars have been consumed, the wine is considered finished or “dry.” The wine is then racked and aged in either a tank or oak barrel, or both, depending on the style of wine being produced.

Many of the white wines we produce, but not all, are relatively high in natural acidity, a distinct quality of our Minnesota-grown, cold-climate grape varieties. The prudent winemaker has only a few ways to adjust or balance this high acidity, either by blending the wine with others, or to add a small amount of sweetness to the wine prior to final filtration and bottling.

Rosé Winemaking

Making rose wines is one of the more fun things winemakers get to do! There are few different ways to make a rose wine but essentially a rose wine is a red wine treated like a white wine, meaning they have little to no skin contact time and are from red grapes and sometimes intermixed with white grapes as well. Our Kasota Rose, for example, is a blend of red and white grapes, Frontenac and Frontenac Gris. Our Marquette Rose, on the other hand, is made from Marquette a red grape that is sent straight to the press. 

Because the red grapes are not de-stemmed or crushed, the juice only has minimal contact with the grape skins where most of the color components come from. The result is a lightly red colored or “blush” wine. The juice is fermented cold and at a slow pace, which preserves and enhances the bright fresh fruit qualities of the wine. Little to no barrel aging is done to emphasize the fruit profile and freshness of these vibrant wines.