Students and instructors in the Viticulture and Enology program at Surry Community College have immersed themselves this fall semester harvesting and making sparkling wine, an untraditional style for North Carolina. A few factors during the growing season contributed to this decision.
Two late frosts in April stunted development of the grapes and set the entire vineyard roughly two weeks behind ripening compared to an average year. The harvest chemistry has shown that the grapes would be ideal for sparkling wine, and students were back on campus, ready to pick. Aromella, a hybrid variety developed with Gewürztraminer heritage was the first to be picked. Chardonel and Chambourcin, both high quality hybrids, quickly followed. Chambourcin will be made into a sparkling rose. After primary fermentation, Aromella and Chardonel will be blended together for the Blue Ridge Bubbles label.
SCC Viticulture Instructor Sarah Bowman believes hybrids deserve much more recognition than they receive.
“Even in the most challenging of years, they tend to be reliable. Every variety has its quirks, but our management and winemaking styles continue to improve the more we let these hybrids shine,” Bowman said.
Little canopy management was performed on these varieties, which were simply pruned, shoot thinned, and sprayed for pests and disease. This technique is appropriate for grapes destined for sparkling wine and the management is significantly less effort compared to European varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Albarino.
SCC Enology Instructor David Bower is thankful that hybrids allow us to make wines of all styles no matter the growing conditions.
“We have the ability to make quality sparkling, white, and rose wines and to produce them well in an interesting style. North Carolina should produce wines to the quality of fruit that is received and not the other way around,” Bower said.
By utilizing hybrids in the Surry Cellars vineyard, students are given the opportunity to make high quality wines from grapes that are very tolerant to the weather in the Yadkin Valley.
Students used different methods to produce the sparkling wines such as the traditional method with loose yeast and riddling, and a modern, encapsulated yeast technique. The Blue Ridge Bubbles and Chambourcin rose are currently in production now and will be available to enjoy in time for the holidays. Inquire about them at your local fine bottle shop.
Surry Cellars won Best Sparkling Wine at the North Carolina Fine Wines Competition in 2019 with Lot 153, made from Petit Manseng.
Surry’s Viticulture and Enology program offers a degree, diploma and certificate options with tracks in viticulture, enology, and marketing. In Fall 2020, a Tasting Room Operations certificate was introduced. Surry offers additional viticulture and enology workshops throughout the year. To learn more about SCC’s program, visit surry.edu/wine. Follow the program on Facebook @ncviticulturecenter or Instagram @surrycellars.
Choosing a college is an important decision, and we’re pleased that you’re interested in Surry Community College.