SUNNYSIDE — Andrews Family Vineyards of Prosser and Airfield Estate Winery of Sunnyside, both fourth generation vintners, share a deep bond of colorful flavor to produce wines which add to Central Washington’s distinguished quality for discerning taste and national demand.
Capturing the depth of color balanced with a matching aroma is the cultivating essence of harvest, which is always a special day for winemakers and their crews. On this occasion, it has brought together two family vineyards destined to capture their exacting taste for exceptional quality.
“Jeff (Andrews) is really unique. We’ve known each other for a while. His dad has the winery just behind us and so we’re doing something I don’t do for a lot of people. This is pretty rare that were processing fruit that’s not our own,” Airfield Estate Winery Owner and President Marcus Miller acknowledged on Friday morning, Oct. 2.
World class Cab Franc grapes from Horse Heaven Hills were carefully selected and delivered to Airfield’s high-tech and innovative processing with optical sorters designed to remove the leaf stems and unwanted particulars while removing any berry that does not meet quality standards from 13 tons of grapes an hour.
“The Horse Heaven Hills is just an amazing viticultural area and we feel it doesn’t quite get enough recognition,” Andrews Family Vineyards owner Jeff Andrews stated. “We’ve been there for about 80 years, four generations.”
He, along with his dad Mike and winemaker Ray McKee watched Airfield’s specialized Pellenc sorting equipment technologies from Vine Tech Equipment in Prosser, engage their two tons of grapes with integrated precision.
“We’ve been in the industry for a long time. My dad started planting grapes in 1994. The Andrews brand has been growing grapes since 1980,” Andrews added. “We feel like it’s our time to put a stamp on things.”
Working with second generation winemaker McKee to find their very best blocks while tending the fruit all the way through the season with a lot of “intentionality,” their premium Trothe program wine is targeted toward a collector’s market which will be launched next year, Andrews confirmed. “This vintage is amazing. There’s a lot of excitement.”
The fruit was unloaded into Airfield’s big pit No.1 that was solidly attached to a custom fabricated, heavy duty steel bracket, raising it off the ground for increased juice drainage.
“To make this equipment process the way that it was intended, you’ve got to get as much juice away from the fruit as possible. All this high-tech equipment requires dry fruit. So, this will be the first spot where we really get that juice separated,” Miller described.
The horizontal auger gently moves the grapes onto a belt where they’re transported to the destemmer and then to the optical sorter. The grapes line up single file, and a machine spreads out the fruit into single berries and traveling on a super-fast conveyor, according to Miller.
There’s a digital single lens reflex camera inside the top of the cone, constantly imaging grape quality based on pixels and set up to discharge those which don’t make the grade. The grapes are moving so fast that they’re making a jump past the waste bin to where they will enter the musk pump.
“It’s got a row of air cannons up above and if the camera recognizes something it doesn’t like, the air cannon shoots it down and discharges it,” Miller conveyed. “Constantly kicking out all the stuff that is less than ideal.”
He added that all the waste and pumice materials collected will end up in a big dump truck and taken to get composted, eventually being spread on the vineyards’ roadways for dust abatement.
Both families of winemakers are seeking to achieve a 99% perfection rate of physical appearance upon entering the tank following the machine processing.
“We’re excited to be able to use their optical sorter and that’s why we’re here. It’s something we don’t have access to with our own facility right now,” McKee explained. “Just the ability to kick out any berry that doesn’t meet our quality standards will elevate the quality of wine even more.”
According to McKee, Washington state is the best place in the world to grow wine grapes and make wine. “We want to be part of the story to remind people that Washington wines can compete with anybody.”