I recently introduced to you my long time friend Katherine DeCrescenzo- Kinzey. She was one of the amazing women who helped me kickstart my Girl Power Series, you can find her article featured here: Girl Power Series: Meet Kat! In the series you learn all about Kat; who she is, what her passions are and a lot of other interesting facts! You also learn that she is the Assistant Wine Maker at Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bangor, Pennsylvania. When I set out to interview her for my Girl Power Series, we talked for almost two hours about anything and everything under the sun- including her experience in winemaking. If I had a favorite super hero, it would be Kat the Winemaker! I promised there would be an article to follow up, because well, our conversation tends to get a little off the rails- especially when there’s wine involved! Kat is such an eccentric, kind and inspiring woman- and naturally, I had so many questions to ask her about wine! In this interview, she is joined by her husband Evan and co- worker Cailee!
BG: As a wine maker, what is your favorite wine to drink verses your favorite wine to make or give to people?
KD: Mmmmm, my favorite wine is Evanswood- I like off- dry wines. (Evanswood is FHV’s Red Blend). If I want something sweeter, I can get down with Reisling. My favorite wine to gift people is grape juice (AKA Sir Walter’s Red- FHV’s number one selling wine, named after the owner’s father).
BG: Do you have a favorite type of wine to make?
KD: No, I like making new things. I have fallen in love with the wine we already make- but what makes me excited is coming out with new ideas of what I think people will enjoy. Always push yourself to look for something better.
BG: I would be so overwhelmed by being a winemaker, but I think its SO AWESOME that’s what you do!
BG: What are some things that intrigue you about wine, is there anything you’re just absolutely curious about?
KD: I just love that wine is never certain. You could do everything right and sometimes the wine just doesn’t go right and its a mystery. I love the romance of it, you never know what you’re going to get into. You can pick grapes at 21 brix in the vineyard and you can bring them in and you go to ferment them and for whatever reason it doesn’t come out good. At that point you have to be the problem solver and build the wine from the ground up. On the other hand, you could pick grapes at 15 brix, early, picking quickly because it’s rotting from the vine. You think its going to turn out awful and you get one of the best wines you’ve ever made and there’s no chemical reason why it came out so well. Example: we picked Vidal Blanc early because it was such a rainy season and I think it was the best Vidal ever, it won gold. There’s no reason why that came out so good.
BG: That’s so interesting and I agree, one of my favorite things about wine is how different the same grape can taste from different regions. But I didn’t realize you had to play around so much to create your wine, I didn’t realize how many details went into that process. Can you explain 21 brix to me?
KD: Brick is how you measure the sugar in wine. You want to make your juice 21 brix so you get 12 % alcohol after fermentation with residual sugar. 21 brix means pretty much perfect.
BG: You learn something new everyday…
BG: Does FVH oak age their wines?
KD: A lot of the dryer wines we oak age in stainless steel.
BG: Oh, I didn’t know you could do that. How do you oak age in stainless steel and not oak barrels? I just assumed all wine was aged in oak barrels.
KD: It’s a totally different style of wine making opposed to barrels. We tie nylon sacks to the valve with oak staves, or oak chips, there’s so many kinds. Barrels can be so problematic, everything that I have experienced with barrels is there’s so much that can go wrong. If you don’t have a clean winery, microbes can grow everywhere. Every time you move a wine, you’re supposed to smell it and you’re supposed to taste it. At that point, you need to problem solve, you’re going to find out when you move it around.
BG: Is there something that you were surprised to learn about wine making?
KD: There is no right or wrong way to make wine, there are styles. It depends on the person and how they are taught. If you taste someone’s wine, you can typically figure out what that person’s backstory was. Example: they did an apprentice in Italy or they have a more traditional approach.
Evan: The worst thing you could end up with is wine.
KD: Maybe not the wine you wanted to make, but it’s till going to be wine.
BG: Gotta look at the bright side, lol.
I opened up the floor for other people to submit questions they have for you regarding wine and the wine making process- here are the things they were curious to know!
BG: How do you blend wines?
KD: We pour two wines together, but there are many different ways.
BG: I wasn’t sure how its done, I originally thought the grapes were picked and fermented together.
KD: You can do it that way, our winery just doesn’t have the time.
BG: So you fully ferment and make the wine and then you blend them together in your steels?
KD: That’s the way we do it, other people might blend at harvest and then ferment it together- you get different characteristics that way. We don’t really have the breadth to do that.
KD: True rosé is fermenting red grapes with the skins on a little bit. They might blend at harvest and ferment together. It’s a different complexity, you mainly add 10% red with 50% Cayuga white.
BG: Cayuga? I’ve never heard of that before.
KD: Cayuga is a Northern region hybrid, it’s not super unique by itself so you add it to other things.
Cailee: You get the best out of the merlot, out the noir and then you throw the cayuga in it to really brighten it up and you get this really amazing product. Some of my favorite wines are blends!
BG: How long is the minimum time that FVH ages their wines?
KD: Zero days. It just goes back to the winemaking style, that’s just not our style. I do see a difference in reds as they sit, if you don’t take care of them they could be bitter and things can go very bad. Specially FHV, we don’t hold onto wine very often.
Cailee: We’re at such a high volume and are moving product so fast we cannot hold onto things.
KD: We do have one product that we make that’s casked by thirty, barrel aged Chamborcin that is Oaked for a year. It just won a gold medal at the International Women’s Wine Competition. It’s been our little project, this French- American wine gets a bad rep because its the driest on our list.
BG: Chamborcin reminds me of a Brunello, I’m not a fan of the earthy notes but it did get better after two hours in the decanter.
KD: Aerating absolutely changes the wine, it releases a fruity flavor. I absolutely believe in decanters- but I encourage people to taste them before they do it. Drink your wine how you want it, how you like it, when you want it.
BG: So, your wine isn’t made to have a shelf life like that- is that something that has to do with the yeast you use?
KD: It’s mostly sulfites, you’re going to add a lot of sulfites if you’re going to age it for a long time because sulfites preserve the wine. Big box wines are loaded with sulfites- thats how you get the headaches.
BG: One of the questions I got was, ‘how do I drink it without a headache?’ and I was like- don’t be a little bitch? We need a winemaker to answer that? HAHAHA…
Cailee: Shake it off sunshine.
BG: But really, how can we drink wine without hangover?
Cailee: Sulfates are natural in grapes, they’re found in the skin- so white wines are better to cut back on headaches because it spends less time fermenting with the skin. Try local wineries, we don’t add sulfites because we have a shorter production time to the shelf verses the two years it takes the big box labels. Sulfite Free wine is actually GMO and you won’t find that often.
KD: I know wine makers are trying it, but I don’t know if they have a good enough solution that would make me switch. I think its (sulfites) gotten us this far and its pretty important in the makeup of wine. Sulfites keeps the microbes at bay so it doesn’t turn wine into vinegar.
BG: I get headaches very seldom and I drink a lot of dry red wine, so this whole time I thought it had to do with low residual sugar and not the sulfites. Do you know more about natural wines? I guess I assumed sulfite free wine was natural wine but now I’m realizing that sulfites are natural.
KD: No farms, no wine. It all comes down to what you do with the grape. Natural means they didn’t spray any pesticides, which can be tricky because grapes are really finicky.
BG: What kind of grapes and yeasts do you use? Are there different yeasts to choose from?
KD: There is a whole catalog of yeasts you can use. They all ferment differently so they all taste different. There are people who their sole job is to create yeasts, the unsung hero of wine.
BG: Dang, I didn’t know that. So interesting.
BG: How long does it take from harvest to bottle?
KD: A month and a half. We generally like to go longer but sometimes you’re in a pickle and have to get it together. Reds like to ferment quickly outside in open fermenters in as little as four days and as much as two weeks but we generally like to ferment for seven days. Whites take a little longer because we bring them inside. We like to do it in open fermenters because we like to ferment with their skins to get the color and tannins.
BG: How often do you harvest? Once a year? What is your season?
KD: Once you’re in harvest- it could be weeks, it could be months- but once you’re in harvest, you’re in harvest. Depending on the variety, we try to pick the same variety at the same time. We have two vineyards and it depends, one variety might be ready in one vineyard but not in the other.
Cailee: You want to make sure you’re picking them all at the same level.
KD: PH levels and acidity are the two main measurements you pick on, 21 Brix is ideal.
BG: Do you make wine year round, or do you harvest and store the grapes?
KD: We ferment everything and keep it as raw wine and then finish it. We ferment it upfront and then use it for the whole year. Every winery is different so it depends on style and facility.
Cailee: The warehousing space of some wineries is incredible. The turn over rate at FVH is incredible, things are just moving out so fast. We have such a following now that we are able to do what we do because of how fast it moves out.
You heard it folks! That’s my inside scoop from Kat the Winemaker! You heard it straight from the source, their wine is in high demand and they don’t disappoint. Make sure to follow Franklin Hill Vineyards on social media to find out the latest news happening at the winery! And if you’re in the area, stop in for a bottle of Sir Walter’s Red and say hello to Kat and Cailee!