Today, after buying 500 vines a year in the intervening years, Arnie has 45-50 acres are planted but he lost his vines in 2014. How Arnie Esterer will carry on after that loss is hard to know. Of the various hybrids tried, the only one that remained was Chambourcin, which does not contain diglycerides and is free of phylloxera, the root louse that caused the demise of European vineyards in the late 1800s. Esterer prefers to grow the great wine grapes—Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. Ever concerned about quality, he is ardent about Lake Erie’s reputation. He believes that “if the region is known by hybrids, we’ll be known for second-rate wine.” Markko Vineyards has a 2000-case capacity and produces at least 1000 cases annually.
The Markko trellising system, which is shown on Markko Vineyard’s website, features the raising of the bi-lateral cordon to 54 inches to help grapes survive severe winters. With four spur-cane fruiting positions on the arms of the trellis, it becomes a no-tie system that allows the fruiting canes to droop as buds break and shoots grow. In a teaching voice, Esterer writes on the website, “The higher cordon adds benefits of a warmer micro-climate spring, fall and winter, better air flow and leaf exposure, more ergonomic canopy management and picking zone, open foliage for better spray penetration, and most importantly requires no tying of fruiting canes. The only spring tying required depends on
securing trunks and cordon arms to the trellis wire.”
Arnie does not use pesticides on his grapes, to allow natural, organic, bacterial fermentation. He uses only natural yeast. Esterer interferes with the fermentation as little as possible. He filters only if necessary, and he filters with egg whites, a method called “fining,” if the wine has too much tanninsFining smoothes out the wines.
The cellar, which mimics Dr. Frank’s on Keuka Lake, is at 40 degrees for two months every winter, which takes down the acid in the cellar and acts as a cold stabilizer. The juice ferments in the barrels for three or more years, 6-7 years of fermentation for sparkling wines, to achieve the maximum amount of body to the wine and achieve the “in the mouth” balance of salt, sugar, acidity, astringency, and roundness. One of the key ingredients of the Markko cellar is black mold. “Mold is essential in the wine cellar,” Esterer says.
Anyone serious about winemaking should keep an eye on Arnie Esterer at Markko Vineyard. He models the idea of allowing the Earth give back to us, the harvest to provide just what is needed, and the wine to ferment in a way that yields a flavor as varied as the colors of the sunset. “Customers need to see how wines are made,” Esterer advises. “Winemaking is an art because it sells like art.” Customers should like and appreciate the winemaker. At Markko Vineyard, Arnie Esterer’s love of winemaking gladdens the heart.