Wine Philosophy

It’s a blend of art and science. There’s an artistic and a technical side. There are a lot of technically correct wines that are stylistically boring. You must take the science and merge it with a sense of style and artistry.

{amended 8 September 2014}

RED WINES: Grapes utilyzed include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, and Chancellor
Basic winemaking for the RED WINE GRAPES is very straightforward and all fruit is handled in essentially the same manner. (Alternative cellar practices will be discussed later in this section.) Hand-picked fruit is crushed into 1-ton open top fermenters with 25-35 ppm sulphur dioxide added during crushing and destemming. 18-24 hours later, the must is inoculated with a prepared yeast culture; sometimes 2 to 4 yeasts are used, a different one for each vat. Caps are punched down 2 to 3 times a day. For the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, fermentation is usually pressed 1 to 2 days after cap fall, with total fermentation time from 12-20 days, depending upon the temperature. The Chambourcin and Chancellor vats are usually pressed after 4-6 days, because high levels of phenolic extraction is not desired, and more than sufficient color has been obtained by then. Press wine is blended with the free run. The new wine is settled in-tank, and racked off the gross lees into 225L barrels.

All lots undergo complete malo-lactic fermentation, usually finishing in barrel, but sometimes completes before the pressed wine is racked off the gross lees. In late harvest vintages, MLF may not complete until springtime.

During the course of the first year, the new Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines are subjected to 3-4 aerated rackings, depending upon the ripeness of the tannins. The new Chambourcin and Chancellor wines are subjected to 1-2 aerated rackings, dependent only on the appearance of off aromas or reduced character in the wine. Sulphur dioxide, in the form of potassium metabisulfite, is first added to the red wines after malo-lactic fermentation is completed, during their late spring or summer racking. Barrels are topped regularly with like wine, either from barrels or from carboys. Wine is racked only once during its second year. Each variety, vineyard, and fermentation lot is kept separate (as much as is possible) until the final blend is determined. Different pickings from the same vineyard are also kept separate, if the character differences warrant it. Initial blending trials begin about 12 months after vintage. The wine is aged in barrel, mostly used (but sometimes some new) American oak, for 18-20 months before bottling. Bottle ageing of at least 6 months is desired before release.

Cygnus Red, CYGNUS Wine Cellars’ basic red wine, has evolved since first inroduced in 1997. Initially a blend of wines dominated by Chancellor, since the 1999 vintage it is primarily Chambourcin. Chancellor had all but disappeared from Maryland vineyards, and Chambourcin became more available, necessitating the change. Although they can produce similarly styled wines, they are different with Chancellor having a more spicey/earthy character, and Chambourcin having a more fruit-forward character with a bit more tannin.

A more detailed history of Cygnus Red can be found <<Here>>

Early in 2005, I shared an investment with a new grower in Carroll County (Quail Vineyard), not far from the winery in Manchester, and planted an acre each of Chancellor, Chambourcin, and Vidal Blanc that he will grow exclusively for Cygnus Wine Cellars. This will at last again make available Maryland-grown Chancellor, and help stabilize the supply of Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc for the production of my wines. Small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc may be included in the blend, but the prevailing fruity/spicey/earthy character, and smooth finish of the Cygnus Red comes from the blend of Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes. The current release is from the 2007 vintage, and is composed of 69% Chambourcin, 26% Chancellor, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Harvesting of Chancellor and Chambourcin from Quail Vineyard has brought the Cygnus Red back to all-Maryland grapes.

Beginning in 2009, I began producing a dry Rose. This wine is styled after the wines from southern France; the grapes are crushed, given a short vatting time, then pressed, with fermentation finishing in barrel. The wine is then barrel-aged for about 10 months and bottled. This produces a light red wine, very fruity with a little spice on the soft finish. Most Americans when they see Rose, think cold and sweet. Cygnus Rose is not that wine! Cygnus Rose has a lot of red wine flavor, just in a lighter style. With the release of the 2012 vintage, I rebranded this wine as Chancellor, the name of the grape, and from which the Rose has always been made.

Cabernet Sauvignon, CYGNUS Wine Cellars’ varietal Cabernet is, when of sufficient character, vintage dated. Every once in a while, like the 1996 and 2000 vintages, the growing season is not particularly good for developing the ripeness required to display wines, based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, at their best. So, as I did for the 1996 vintage, the 2000 wine was released as a non-vintage Cabernet. A very nice wine, it nonetheless had insufficient depth of character and complexity to stand out as a vintage-dated wine.

The current vintage of Cygnus Cabernet Sauvignon is 2011 and is entirely from Copernica Vineyard in northern Carroll County. A beautiful wine with cherry fruit and a clove-spice character on the pallet, with some astringency on the finish from the tannin. The Copernica Vineyards grapes always give the wine a bright cherry fruit aroma and flavor, with a little clove-like spice.

It has been a few years since I was able to obtain Cabernet Franc. The 2012 vintage was bottled September 2013 and is now available at the winery. Well worth the wait, this is an awesome wine from a great vintage.

Julian, CYGNUS Wine Cellars’ meritage red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, is not released until at least its fourth year after vintage. This wine is only produced in those vintages that are exceptional, and only from the best barrels I have in the cellar of Maryland-grown Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The only Julian vintages released to date have been from 1995, 1997 and 2002.


There are some variations from the above described winemaking procedures that I use in the production of red wines for Cygnus Wine Cellars.

In the production of Chancellor and Chambourcin for the Cygnus Red blend, an additional purpose behind early pressing of these grapes is to finish the alcohol fermentation in barrel. This combination of vat and barrel fermentation aides in deep, bright, stable color, fruit retention, and a soft, smooth mouth feel to the wine.

As described previously, I try to use multiple yeasts when fermenting even the same variety of grapes from the same vineyard. If I have an available vat, I will split a lot in 2, and ferment half with one yeast and a second yeast for the other. Although yeasts do have slightly different fermentation characteristics, they tend to be subtle, some affecting aroma (fruitiness), some affecting mouthfeel, etcetera. In the end, I use them all to help create a little more complexity in the wine bottled for you.

Another practice has been to ‘cold soak’ portions of the Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes, prior to fermentation. About 1/2 ton of grapes are crushed and destemmed into a refrigerated vat (you can see it if you visit the winery) with about 15ppm SO2, some pectolytic enzymes, and chilled to about 40-45 F. This creates a situation in which there is oxygen, water (from the juice, but no alcohol yet) and the skins of the grapes. The vat is held like this for 3-4 days, and I stir it up a bit twice a day. This process delays the presence of alcohol, allowing extraction from the skins to be done only by the water in the juice, with a little help from the pectolitic enzymes. The free run juice is then pumped out into barrel, where it is allowed to warm up, yeast is added, and the fermentation takes place entirely in barrel. This produces a very fruity wine with medium color that adds a lot of youth to the finished blend. The skins and pulp left behind are scooped into the press, and pressed out with the grapes that have been fermenting with the skins in vats.


From time to time, I will receive very clean and ripe fruit, that, upon crushing into the vat in preparation for fermentation, I will not add any SO2. Instead, I will inoculate with cultured yeast and allow both indigenous yeast populations and the cultured yeast to initiate the fermentation. Because most, if not all of the indigenous yeasts will die off after a few percent of alcohol have been produced, I know that the bulk of the fermentation will be completed with the action of the cultured yeast. But a little complexity can be obtained from some of the fermentation character produced by the early indigenous yeast activity. This can only be done when ripe fruit is clean and disease free.

A technique which can be used to increase the intensity in otherwise high quality fruit is that of ‘dejuicing’, or removing some of the free run juice from a vat of crushed grapes so that the skins to juice ratio is increased; in other words allowing the ‘good stuff’ extracted from the skins to go into a lesser amount of juice, thus increasing the intensity in the resultant wine. In poor vintages, this is not done as the chemistry of the grape skins is not ‘ripe’ enough, and in great vintages is hardly necessary. In good vintages, where there may have been some rain during harvest, this technique can be useful. But then, you have to have something to do with the resultant ‘—- blanc’ juice created in the process!


WHITE WINES: Grapes utilyzed include Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay

There are two basic styles of white wine I produce at Cygnus Wine Cellars. The first is a cool-fermented, stopped fermentation, semi-dry white wine, and the second is an ambient temperature, small-lot fermented, dry white wine. The first style is exemplified by the Cygnus Wine Cellars’ Manchester Hall . The second style by the varietaly labeled and (sometimes) vineyard designated Chardonnay (see later discussion).

For each of the varieties used to produce white wines, I whole-cluster press all of the grapes. This technique makes a finer, high quality juice, and is the same used in the production of fine sparkling wine (which is discussed in more detail later in this section).


Semi-dry White Wine Production

Vidal Blanc has been the workhorse grape for white wine at Cygnus, primarily because it makes great wine and is very good in the vineyard, somewhat easier to grow and more productive than other grape varieties.

For the Vidal Blanc grapes, juice is pumped into tank with 50ppm S02, pectolytic enzyme, chilled to 35-40F, and settled for 36-48 hours. Clear juice is racked off the lees and inoculated with Cote du Blanc (Epernay 11) yeast and DAP/yeast food. Wine is fermented cool until about 2% residual sugar, whatever is necessary to just balance the natural acidity. The fermentation is then stopped by chilling to 20F, adding Bentonite, and 60 PPM S02. The wine is kept cold for about a week, and then racked off the lees into neutral cooperage (stainless steel or HDPE), until bottling in the spring.

By encouraging a slow, even fermentation, and stopping it late (at around 1-2%) the predominate sugar remaining is fructose (the glucose being preferentially fermented earlier), giving – per gram of sugar – a sweeter taste while maintaining a light, elegant body.

MLF is prevented in these wines. Multiple fermentation lots are blended, minor corrections to acidity are made, and the wine filtered and bottled in the spring. The Manchester Hall wine is made in the style of French Muscadet and German Rheingau Riesling, and is full of fresh fruit and flower aromas, and flavors of peaches, melons, and citrus predominate.


A short history of the Manchester Hall can be found <<Here>>


Dry, Premium White Wine Production
Chardonnay Chardonnay grapes are whole-cluster pressed juice is pumped into tank with 30ppm S02, pectolytic enzyme, chilled to 40F, and settled for 18-24 hours. The settled juice is racked off the lees and inoculated with Montrachet, Cote des Blanc, or some other cultured yeast, and DAP/yeast food is added. As I do for the red wines, multiple yeasts may be used. The juice is fermented in small HDPE barrels at ambient temperature. Near dryness, the wine is racked off the heavy yeast lees, aerated briefly, and returned to rinsed barrels, topped.

In previous vintages, I have alternated between a full malolactic Chardonnay and a non-Malolactic wine, and for the fruit from this region, I prefer the non-malolactic fermentation style. However I will continue the practice of batonage, or stirring of the light yeast lees in the barrel. Once a week the wine is stirred, mixing the light yeast lees into the wine. There are 2 reasons for using the yeast lees in this fashion. First, stirring the lees and maintaining contact with the new wine allows any oxygen to be absorbed by the yeast cells, thereby reducing the need to add sulphur dioxide. Second, as the yeast cells break down, they release amino acids and other proteins into the wine, adding to the mouthfeel and body of the wine.

Different lots are blended as soon as practical and returned to barrel. The light lees are retained and stirring is continued.

In March or April, wines are prepared for bottling. Blends are determined, and wine is then pumped out of the barrels and into a tank. Corrections to acidity are made at this time. The wine is sometimes fined with Bentonite, and chilled to 20F for detartration (cold stabilizing). Usually about 2-3 days later, the wine is racked off the lees and allowed to warm up. It is then filtered, free SO2 adjusted, and the new wine bottled.

The current Chardonnay vintage is 2011, from all Maryland fruit. And the Manchester Hall, also all Maryland grapes, is the 2008 vintage.


SPARKLING WINE: Grapes utilyzed include Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Catawba and Chancellor

All grapes used for CYGNUS Wine Cellars’ Sparkling Wines, bottled under the ROYELE label, are whole cluster pressed. Whole cluster pressing is a technique in which hand-picked fruit, in bunches (clusters) just the way you buy table grapes in the grocery store, are placed directly into the press. These grapes are not crushed or removed from the stems before pressing out the juice. When processing the grapes this way, contact of the juice with the skins is kept to a bare minimum. This is desireable since, as the juice stays in contact with the skins, (as happens when they are crushed into a vat and then pumped into the press), bitterness is extracted from the skins into the juice and can end up in the new wine. For sparkling wine (champagne) the finer the juice, the more elegant and fine the wine.

The press cycle fractions are kept separate. Fractioning of the press cycle of Vidal Blanc and Chancellor is more severe than that for the Chardonnay. Phenolics must be kept low to maintain the clean, light, elegant style which distinguishes fine Sparkling Wine. Cutting off the press fraction based on tasting the juice maintains better control of this and is necessary with the Vidal Blanc and Chancellor grapes. In addition, color pick up when pressing Chancellor is also a criteria. Thus only about the first 60% of a press is used. In pressing the Chardonnay for the Cuvee de Chardonnay, only the ‘first and second cut’, or ‘cuvee’ quality juice (about 80%) is used. The 3rd cut (about 10%) is used in the Blanc de Blanc with the Vidal Blanc cuvee. The remaining juice from the press cycle (called rebeche) (about 40% for the Vidal Blanc and Chancellor, and about 10-15% for the Chardonnay) cannot be used for Sparkling wine and is blended into other wine.

The same whole cluster/press fractioning approach is employed when using red grapes in the cuvee, as for the Hampton Cuvee Brut Rose. Chancellor grapes are used as the basic cuvee in this wine, with finished red wine (CYGNUS Red) from barrel, added to the cuvee for color, aroma, and body. This technique produces a big, flavorful wine that at the same time has the elegance and style of a fine Sparkling wine.

The 2008 vintage Blanc de Blanc was selected for the Governors Buy Local Picnic in 2010 as the official Beverage. This honor has also been conveyed to the 2008 Rose de Noir Brut in 2011, and the 2008 Hampton Cuvee in 2012.

Following all of the previously discussed sparkling wine procedures, I have also produced a fine Sparkling Wine from one of America’s great Historical Grape Varieties, Catawba. Made in a Brut style with a little sugar in the dosage, this brut sparkling wine, Catawba Cuvee, has a unique flowery aroma, creamy body and clean crisp finish.


For a brief history of my involvement with methode champenoise sparkling wine, go to <<Here>>


Niche Production/Specialty Wines
Late Harvest Sweet Dessert Wines and ‘Port of Manchester’
From time to time the growing season provides the opportunity for the grower and the winemaker (me!) to produce a special wine, a wine only possible because of the conditions of the vintage. The Late Harvest sweet dessert style wines are some of these.  The 2011 vintage LH Vidal Blanc is just about sold out with only about 10 cases remaining. It is a very pretty wine with aromas and flavors of lemon and grapefruit, a touch of orange peel-like citrus, and sweet pear and mineral flavors on the finish.

I have also produced twice before a sweet red dessert style wine called Port of Manchester. The Port of Manchester is a non-fortified sweet red wine that has very Port wine like character but is only 14+% alcohol. The 2010  P.O.M. is the current vintage and is available at the winery.


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