Only a mile and a half wide and even less in length, Isle St. George is crisscrossed by a network of underground limestone caves. As the warm lake water circulates through these caves, ground frost is delayed until late fall. When the fall air becomes cooler, the warm lake water heats the surrounding air and land. Before winter sets in, the lake islands enjoy a 200-day frost-free growing season, remarkable and unusual for this climate. On North Bass Island, the grapes are harvested as much as six weeks after harvesting ends on the mainland. The United State Government has recognized the area's unique climate, soil, topographic and historic conditions that produce distinctive characteristics in the grapes grown here, and has established the area from the Bass Island and the southern shore of Lake Erie - stretching from Toledo into New York State - as the Lake Erie Appellation of Origin. When a Lake Erie designation is indicated on the label of a wine, it means that the grapes used in the wine came from this specific viticulture area.
In the fall, when the grapes are at their peak of maturity, vibrating fingers of the grape harvester shake the fruit from the vines at the rate of 80,000 pounds per day. In a matter of hours from the time they are removed from the vines, the grapes are loaded onto boats and are on their way to the mainland for processing.
At the plant, the grapes are transferred to the crusher and pressed into "must", a combination of juice, skins, and pulp. Although the flavor of wine begins in the vineyards, the winemaker's artistic talent is necessary for proper aging and blending. For white wines, the must goes through a dejuicer immediately; for red wines, the skins are allowed to remain with the must to color the fermenting juice. The juice is then clarified and placed into fermenting tanks, where a special strain of yeast is added to begin fermentation. Fermentation time can vary from one week to over a month. Although most people feel they lack the romance associated with wine making, today's fermenting tanks are made of stainless steel, which is much better for converting the must to wine without losing the varietal character of the grapes. However, sherries, ports and certain varieties of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are still aged in wood to add classic characteristics to the wine. As in fermentation, the wine is aged under the watchful eye of the winemaker, and repeated laboratory tests are made until the wine is perfected. Not until the winemaker has approved the vintage is the wine pumped through sterile fillers, bottled, and labeled for distribution. And once again, we have gone from the vineyard to a superb class of Firelands wine!