Virginia Wine Harvest-turning sunshine into wine


LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — As summer fades into fall, grapes across the Commonwealth begin to ripen, requiring a close watch to determine if they’re ready to be pressed into wine.

This week Sunset Hills is pressing Chambourcin grapes to make Rosé and will continue pressing for the next month.

Winemaker, Preston Thomas, explained the process:

“We dump the fruit into this incline elevator, it takes it all the way up into this machine, it’s a destemmer. It gently removes the grapes from the stems, and this is what we’re left with, bare stems…”

Destemming machine.

“…from the de-stemmer and the roller sorter, it goes into the musk-pump at which point we’re pumping it into the tank. For this particular lot, we’ll let it sit probably 24 hours and then we’ll suit up, climb into the tank, dig out the skins, and pump it into our press where we’ll extract all of that juice,” said Thomas.

Liz Bonfield, a chemist for Sunset Hills, described how she determines if the grapes are ready to be picked based on PH and the brix or sugar content level. She tests for the brix content in the field, chooses a random sample of 100 grapes and then presses them.

“After we get our juice sample, we will take the brix two different ways with our wine refractometer and our Anton-Paar,” said Bonfield.

If the levels are right, they move forward with the picking process.

From start to finish, the wine-making process requires heavy machinery, utilizing lots of energy. Sunset Hills gets about 75% of its annual electricity through solar panels, preventing carbon emissions. Mike Canney, owner of Sunset Hills and previously a physicist, is proud of how the solar-powered energy keeps carbon emissions low.

“One of the things that helps is we’re not burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to turn on the lights, air conditioning…We actually can use solar panels that once they’re built, they absorb the power from the sun, turn it into electricity… So today while it looks like a nice winery, you’re standing at a power station, and I always think that’s kind of cool,” said Canney.

They often use the phrase “We turn sunshine into wine,” setting them apart from other vineyards while helping the environment.

Sunset Hills, along with others, are taking COVID-19 precautions to keep guests safe; an important reminder if you plan to support local vineyards.

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