2011 will be remembered as a year of records. This year’s harvest topped 300 tons of grapes nearly doubling 2006’s harvest of 165 tons. The winery enjoyed thousands of visitors, largely due to the tourist magnet of Newport, RI. Annual production topped 16,000 cases of wine.
This fall, the Nunes brothers are making final preparations to expand the winery’s Tasting Room, Visitor Center and production facilities by nearly one third from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet. The newest addition to the tool barn, an Italian-made CAEB Vine Baler performed admirably this summer.
Grape Growing and Winemaking:
“Great wine is made in the vineyard.”Paul Nunes, co-owner and vineyard manager, believes “the best wines come from a combination of quality soil, a favorable climate and meticulously managed vines.” The Nunes constantly monitor plant and soil health to maximize flavor, quality and yield and to minimize fertilizer, fungicide and pesticide use.
Last summer was very hot leading to moderate yields but strong bud set for this year. This summer’s average rain conditioned the plants before the wet fall and helped avoided excessive fruit splitting or spoilage. Flushed of salt spray after Irene’s pass through RI, the vines and grapes suffered no significant damage and matured beautifully. Newport Vineyard’s experienced Winemaker, George Chelf, predicts many excellent 2011 vintage wines.
Traditional techniques and modern tools maximize wine quality. Chelf preserves grapes’ natural character and “terroir” by gently pressing to avoid extracting harsh tannic acids from the skins. More than three quarters of Newport Vineyard’s Chardonnay and red wine aging barrels are made from French oak to gently “season” the wine and not overpower its taste.
In the 1970s screw-caps were associated with cheap jug wines; now wines in all price ranges and from all wine regions of the world are wearing screw caps. Screw caps protect wines from Cork Taint, a chemical compound called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) which occurs when chlorine and mold come into contact with natural corks, oak barrels or wood pallets. The result is a damp, musty aroma and/or taste similar to wet newspapers. Wine industry studies show Cork Taint can affect 2 to 15 percent of wine bottles. Newport Vineyards has used recyclable screw caps on all its white and most red wines to provide a quality taste experience since 2006. You can watch the winery’s bottling and capping process video.
Newport Vineyard wines have been winning awards against stiff competition since 1998. The Rieslings have won gold medals in three of the past four years. In 2000 Newport Vineyards won the RI Historical Society “Ingenuity and Enterprise” Award for its vineyard practices, Port Wine and Ice Wine.
Expansion and Conservation Plans:
The Winery is finalizing its plans for a grand expansion. The new layout will offer visitors a view over the production area and across the vineyards. The production area will be two stories tall allowing use of 22’ high insulated tanks rather than the current 14’ tall tanks.
The western wall of the new space will be below grade offering a modified ‘cave’ experience with extra humidity for wine barrel storage isolated from the standard conditioned space of the Visitor Center and production facility.
Alternative energy techniques will be used for cooling and heating. A geothermal heating system, partially funded by a USDA grant, will help cool the steel wine tanks in winter and the Visitor Center in summer. Solar hot water panels will preheat the water used for production cleaning operations and supply winter warmth in the Visitor Center with radiant floor heating.
Water conservation will be maximized. Water used for washing tanks will be captured, filtered and/or treated and used for vineyard drip line irrigation.
The new Vine Baler easily removed the vine prunings from between the rows. Traditionally trimmings were chopped and left or hand-collected for composting. Vine and tree health improved since removal of any potential source of fungal re-inoculation, and the need for fungicides has dropped significantly.
About 100 tons of woody material (nearly two pounds per vine over 60 acres) was baled in small round donut-shaped bales. The Baler also gathered apple tree prunings at nearby orchards. The bales were collected, stacked, loosely covered and will dry for six to eight months. The Nunes have ordered an Italian-made CAEB pelletizer for spring delivery and use. The winery pellets will be heating nearly a dozen local homes in the 2012/13 season as well as supplementing the winery’s heating needs.
Purchasing specialized technology and equipment is not new to the Nunes brothers. In 2008 they purchased a German-made Braud Hedger to shape the vine rows. The Hedger creates a narrow vineyard canopy which maximizes sunlight on the grapes and leads to optimal ripening. The extra airflow through the leaves helps minimize fungal disease pressure. To see a video of the Hedger in action, click here.
The Hedger shapes the rows for processing by a high-speed Braud Harvester which works at the speed of 80 laborers. It can harvest one acre or four tons per hour, and unlike staff and volunteers, the mechanical Harvester doesn’t call in sick. This machine paid for itself in just two years. You can watch a video of the Harvester in action.
Something for Everyone:
Besides offering visitors and customers educational tours and award-winning wines, the Newport Vineyards facility includes a Gift Shop offering wine accessories, specialty gourmet foods, gift baskets along with Vineyard logo apparel.
Custom-printed labels are available for Private Reserve Wines. Stock or custom designs are available.
Each summer, Newport Vineyards hosts family picnics, movie showings, Shakespeare performances and three fall Celebrations.
Rhody Coyote Hard Cider is made from hand-selected Rhode Island apples; this clear, sparkling beverage sells out quickly every year.
Newport Vineyards offers vineyard and winery site rentals.
Coastal Wine Trail:
Nine Rhode Island and Massachusetts vineyards participate in the Coastal Wine Trail and offer a ‘passport’ which visitors can get stamped for a get-away prize drawing. Visit any of the wineries to pick up a passport or click here. Participating wineries include Coastal Vineyards, Travessia Urban Winery, Greenvale Vineyards, Langworthy Farm, Newport Vineyards, Running Brook Vineyards, Sakonnet Vineyards, Truro Winery and Westport Rivers.
Site Conditions and History:
Aquidneck Island has a unique and desirable micro-climate tempered by the warm Gulf Stream and Narragansett Bay offering a long, relatively cool growing season allowing wine grapes to develop complex flavors. In 20 years Newport Vineyards has grown to include three separate vineyards totaling 60 acres.
The first French Hybrid vines were planted in 1977 by Captain Richard Alexander (ret.) at the Hopelands Estate. The Nunes family helped Captain Alexander establish Vinland Wine Cellars which produced its first vintage in 1988.In 1995, John and Paul Nunes bought Captain Alexander’s winery and opened Newport Vineyards.
The Nunes family has farmed on Aquidneck Island for nearly 100 years. Francisco Nunes (John and Paul’s great-grandfather) bought the stone-wall-enclosed Bailey Farm in 1917. In 2002 John and Paul Nunes planted eight varieties of wine grapes on over 30 vineyard acres making this the largest vineyard block in New England.
Newport Vineyards bought the former Perry Farm in 1998 and planted nine varieties of vinifera wine grapes. The Nunes and Perry Farms have been preserved through partnerships with the Aquidneck Land Trust and the State of Rhode Island.
Visit the vineyard at 909 E. Main Road/Route 138, Middletown, RI Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. 30 to 60 minute, wheelchair accessible winery tours are available daily at 1 and 3 p.m. Guides explain how grapes are grown, harvested and how the wine is made, aged and bottled. Following the tour, guests may taste selected wines. Please call ahead for groups of 10 or more. Shuttle service to Newport Vineyards is available from downtown Newport via the Coyote Shuttle. For reservations call (401) 846-7090.
For more information on Newport Vineyards, see their website, email or call (401) 848-5161. To see where you can purchase Newport Vineyards wines, click here.
A similar story was published in the January, 2012 issue of ‘Wine & Grape Grower.’