Wine Making At High Altitude In Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole Winery is one of the highest wineries in North America and in the world. Over the last nine years we have perfected making award-winning wine at high altitude. While unpredictable frost and a short growing season make it impossible for us to grow grapes, the benefits of making wine at high altitude makes Jackson Hole the perfect location for winemaking.
Harvest & Transport
Timing and logistics play a significant role in our harvest. Because we grow our grapes primarily in the Sonoma Valley region and then transport them back to Jackson Hole immediately following harvest, logistics is key. A team from Jackson Hole typically drives to California and assists with the harvest. We harvest the grapes early in the morning and place them in large transport bins mixed with dry ice pellets which prevents fermentation from starting and keeps oxygen off the grapes. The grapes then begin their 909-mile journey to Jackson Hole which takes 17-20 hours depending on the weight of the load and how well the truck is running.
Destemming & Crush
Upon arrival in Jackson Hole, our staff immediately destem the grapes. The crushed grapes go into a fermentation bin where they sit for a few days to stabilize. We like to say crushed grapes are like a 5-year in need of a nap. They have been harvested, transported to 6,300 feet with 18% less oxygen, destemmed and now deserved a good rest to acclimate.
When the grapes have stabilized, yeast is added to the bins to begin the fermentation process. One distinct benefit of high elevation winemaking is, the lack of oxygen slows down the fermentation process, allowing more juice to grape contact. While fermentation takes 2-3 weeks in California, in Wyoming it can take 3-4 weeks.
Keeping with our tradition of doing everything by hand, punch downs versus pump overs are done several times a day during the fermentation process. As the grapes ferment, the carbon dioxide pushes the grape skins to the top of the bins forming a crust. Large paddles are used to break this crust, releasing the carbon dioxide, and mix the grapes with the juice.
When fermentation is complete, we use a traditional wood basket press and a lot of old-fashioned manpower to press the grapes. We prefer to hand-press as it allows us control in determining our tannin structure. By continually tasting the wine as it is pressed, we can tell when the tannins become too strong and stop the press. We then take the spent grape skins and spread them over our fields. We jokingly refer to it as "elk candy" and we have the happiest herd of elk in Teton County!
Aging wine at high altitude provides unique advantages. When the snow is blowing, or even during our temperate summers, our barrel room naturally stays around 55 degrees. This consistent temperature benefits the aging process and we enjoy significant savings by not having to run air conditioning units.
We use a mixture of American, French and Eastern European oak and stainless steel barrels for our wines. Each barrel is carefully selected to ensure it provides the unique flavor and aging elements to our wines. Our red wines age between 16-24 months and our white, 10-12 months. Specialty wines like Rose and Viognier age for approximately five months.
Bottling at Jackson Hole Winery is first and foremost, a celebration of friends. It is also a labor of love. All of our bottles are hand corked, foiled, labeled and then wiped down before being boxed. There are no bottling semis in the area and no fancy equipment. We are forever grateful to our friends, wine club members and community who show up in force to assist us with each new vintage. Our wines will sit for three to 12 months typically before being released to the public.