Veteran home winemakers know about this already, but for those of you who don't, here's an ode (actually, some prose paragraphs) in praise of frozen grapes.
In this peculiar California harvest, very few grapes are ready to pick so far. Which means that the resourceful home winemaker turns his/her attention to frozen stuff, just to get a head start on the vintage. Peter Brehm of Brehm Vineyards probably gets the nod as the inventor of this scheme for North American homies, at least on the scale of national distribution. For a couple decades, Brehm has been brokering fresh grapes from multiple growing areas and vineyards on the West Coast to home winemakers and small commercial outfits, but also icing down a portion of the harvest -- crushed grapes for reds, crushed, pressed and settled juice for whites -- for shipment to the far corners of the US and Canada. Sign up for this fruit, and you get five-gallon ice cubes of frozen grapes or juice, or 55-gallon drums, either at your door, at a frozen foods warehouse, or through several regional distributors.
Advantage One of frozen grapes/juice is that you can get your hands on them from far away from the vineyards where they are grown. Advanrtage Two is that you can get your the grapes/juice whenever you want -- not just at picking time, but a bit of Riesling in March, or a bucket of last year's Malbec in June for blending.
Peter, in other words, has disrupted the natural cycle of the harvest, which used to mean that winemakers couldn't ever take vacations in September or October. Now you can head for the Greek Islands in the fall, make wine in the spring.
Advantage Three is that freezing doesn't hurt the grapes or juice, but may actually improve the raw material. Freezing fruit and juice seems to preserve elusive, estery aromatics, and the freezing/thawing of reds helps dismantle the cellular structure of the grapes, freeing more juice and slightly increasing yield.
Disadvantage One -- and only -- is that, of course, you pay a premium for Advantages One through Three -- processing, shipping, storage, etc. Your dollar-a-pound grapes, purchased on the spot in Sonoma County, could end up costing you a buck and a half in Poughkeepsie. But then, you'd have Sonoma fruit.
The point of this infomercial is that here at subterranean cellars, our 2010 harvest is well underway, despite the over-chilly weather, courtesy of the freezer. Two weeks ago, I picked up one 50-pound bucket of Napa Petit Verdot (vintage 2008), which has now been turned into wine and will someday end up as a blender; and another frozen ice cube of 2009 Columbia Gorge Gewürztraminer, now fermenting slow, cool, and happy, destined to become a sparkling wine sometime down the road.
The real 2010 harvest is still a crapshoot; but we're still in business, nonetheless, thanks to the power of freezing.