Meet Jerry, the new master behind the wine at Knapp

Oct 28, 2016

This month, I get the honor of introducing you to the new winemaker at Knapp Winery, Jerry Van Vort. Jerry is a Colorado native, who moved to California during high school then served a four year term in the U.S. Navy. From 2004 to 2008, he was overseas in the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia where he was stationed on the USS Essex LHD2 out of Sasebo Japan. After the Navy, he returned to California where he graduated with a degree in Enology & Viticulture from Allan Hancock College before beginning his winemaking career in the Santa Barbara, California wine region, including Lucas Lewellen and Holus Bolus. He spent 10 years working on the west coast before relocating to Colchester, Connecticut where he worked at Priam Winery. The Connecticut wine region he comes from had very similar growing conditions to the Finger Lakes, with glacial deposits, similar weather and harvest season, hybrid grapes, and warmer temperatures due to its proximity to the ocean. This summer, Jerry and his wife Breana, who also works in the industry on Skaneateles Lake, were drawn to the Finger Lakes region for its beauty and thriving wine industry, relocated to Geneva with their 2 cats and 2 dogs.

I got to chat with Jerry about wine, of course, and I’ll share with you a summary of our conversation. The team at Knapp just finished harvesting their 2016 crop, which despite fears from the common population, turned out alright. As many of you know, we had a severe drought here in the Finger Lakes. The lack of rain did have a direct effect on the grapes, but it was anything but detrimental. According to Jerry, the acids in the fruit are high, but more importantly, the Brix was high. Brix is a measurement of the sugar levels of grapes, which will indicate the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s made. Each gram of sugar that’s fermented will turn into about a 1/2 gram of alcohol. Higher Brix means less chaptalization is needed. Chaptalizing is when sugar is added to the juice prior to fermentation to increase alcohol. The grapes were ripe for the picking early, but we did see a lower yield than in less dry years, having smaller clusters with smaller berries.

Jerry says that mutterings throughout the area claim Cabernet Franc was perhaps the hardest hit by the rough weather we had, but that we should actually see some great color in this year’s reds. Smaller berries means the juice to skin ratio is favorable to the skins. What juice did come from the grapes had much more skin contact, which should result in some beautiful reds.

As he speaks, I get the sense that he is extremely excited to work with this year’s crop. For those of us anxiously awaiting his first Finger Lakes works of art, he estimates that rosés and whites will be ready for sipping as early as late winter and some of the reds will be ready in just less than a year.

His favorite wines to drink depend largely on what he is eating, but at the top of his list is Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch, or Lemberger as you may know it. The crisp acidity of Finger Lakes wines also results in great rosés. These are, perhaps not coincidentally, his favorite wines to make as well! I asked if he has ever had any notable mishaps or “epic fails” in making wine, but luckily he had nothing to report aside from the inevitable equipment failure. With so many moving parts, it’s very common for things to stop working, and of course, a harvest without equipment failure is nearly unheard of.

In addition to keeping the traditional wines that Knapp is known for including Rieslings, Superstition and Limoncello, he is considering working with the distiller to produce more wine based fortified products and distillates. Join me in welcoming Jerry to the Finger Lakes and thank you for choosing the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.