- Our Wine Production -
The first step in production begins in the vineyard. Our 50 acre vineyard was planted in 1979 and is located 12 miles north of Defuniak Springs. The grapes are of Muscadine varieties. Muscadine grapes are native and are found growing wild in most areas of the southeastern states. Our varieties are Carlos and Noble, improved generations selected and propagated from native grapes. Again, our vineyard is not located on site. However, we have a preview of our vineyard on our front lawn. This preview consists of about 10 rows of the actual Carlos and Noble grape. Our customers enjoy picking these grapes during the harvest season. This gives everyone a hands-on feel of the actual grapes used to make our wines. These grapes are sweet straight from the vine. Be sure to pick a few and taste them for yourself -You'll see just what the rave is all about!
Carlos is a white Muscadine variety used for juice and wine and is similar to the well-known "Scuppernong" Muscadine. Noble is a red Muscadine variety and is known for its full and festive flavor. Great care and attention is paid to the cultivation of the vineyards. The grapes are fertilized and irrigated to yield crops of quality and healthy vines for future vintages.
The grape harvest begins in late August and lasts into September. A mechanical picker is used to quickly and efficiently harvest the fruit in the cool morning hours. The grapes are then delivered to the winery for crushing, usually within a couple hours after picking to maximize freshness. This cool picking and rapid processing is essential to capturing the quality and flavor of these exceptional grapes. The quality of a wine hinges on the vineyard and our goal is to maintain that quality from vine to bottle.
The grapes are crushed and pressed in a state-of-the-art facility. Our winery boasts over 70,000 gallons of temperature-controlled, stainless steel cooperage as well as over 1,980 gallons of barrels for oak aging. The commitment to quality and efficiency is showcased in the press used for processing. The current wine press was added in 2004 and is a 12,000 liter Europress. This wine press was custom-built for Chautauqua by the Scharfenberger Company of Germany. Currently, this is the largest press of its kind East of the Rocky Mountains. This press can gently extract the juice from 30 tons of fresh grapes, or 35 tons of fermented reds in a single load. The winery also has its own in-house lab for the winemaker to evaluate field samples and wines as part of Chautauqua's strict Quality Assurance program.
After crushing, the white grapes are immediately pressed and the juice is quickly chilled. When the juice is clarified, cultured wine yeast is added and the fermentation process begins. The white wines are generally fermented at very cool temperatures, around 50-55 degrees F, this to capture aroma and flavor. Reds are handled a bit differently. The grapes are crushed into fermentation tanks while select wine yeast is added. They are then fermented "on the skins" for several days to extract the flavor and color from the skin of the grape. When ready, the free run fermenting juice is drained, and the skins and pulp are pressed. Red wines are fermented at cool temperatures, usually 70 degrees F. Both white and red wines ferment until all sugar is converted to alcohol, this itself ending the fermentation process. The wines are then allowed to settle and any blending that is done happens at this stage. Thereafter, the wines are clarified and stabilized in preparation for bottling. Grapes harvested in the fall are made into wines which are typically ready for bottling the following spring.