Who would get in to the brandy business? You have to be crazy. Bat-shit crazy or thick as a brick stupid. Because making brandy is hard, and way harder than it looks.
Every year we distill our annual Kentucky Vintage Brandy. We distill Vidal Blanc wine that we pick, press, ferment and distill 100% in Kentucky.
Few people are aware that the first commercial vineyard and winery in the USA was established in Jessamine County, Kentucky in 1799, with the first wine made in 1803 (and in 1805 President Thomas Jefferson gave his personal approval of the quality of the wine).
Vidal Blanc is a hybrid grape developed in France in the 1930’s. It is a hybrid between the Cognac grape varietal Ugni Blanc and the Seibel grape, originally developed as a weather and terroir flexible varietal for brandy production. It is a grape that handles very diverse weather conditions from extreme cold (most used now for Ice Wine) and the weather vagaries of North America, from New York state to Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri and Kentucky (and more). It is still the most planted grape varietal in Kentucky. It produces a very fruity wine with high acidity and strong grapefruit, pineapple aromas.
So what’s the catch?
It takes 5 tons of grape to make one barrel of brandy.
5 tons of Vidal Blanc to make 1 barrel of 2015 Kentucky Vintage Brandy.
And the Kentucky 2015 grape harvest is pitiful. 2 winters of extreme cold, coupled with persistent heavy rains in Spring and early Summer 2015 devastated the crop. Vines were forced to use tertiary buds for fruit production resulting in much smaller yields, the rains caused poor fruit set and increased disease pressure. We have seen entire vineyard blocks completely wiped out.
It takes 3 years for a before a vine bears its first cluster and 5 years before they are considered mature.
So. We were hoping to distill 2 barrels of Kentucky Vintage Brandy in 2015. That would be 10 tons of grapes.
We only got 1.5 tons of Vidal.
Which resulted in ……. 12.5 gallons of fine American Brandy from Kentucky.
It is lovely distillate. Clean, crisp. Nice citrus fruit, a little unripe apricot. Even a very faint hint of breakfast cereal.
We will age in a small 15g New American Oak barrel from Kelvin Cooperage. Heavy toast, no char.
2016. The single most valuable personality trait of the wine-maker, brandy distiller is optimism. Staying power helps. 2016.