Les Trois Emme Winery: The wine chemist

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NEW MARLBOROUGH — Wayne Eline spent 19 of his 34 years in education as a chemistry teacher. But today, you can find him studying the molecules of a specimen you won't find in a high school classroom: wine.

On a recent afternoon, Eline held a different kind of science class, readily referring to exothermic reactions and refractometers as he roamed Les Trois Emme Winery's back rooms, where he and his family produce 13 different types of wine.

But like any good teacher, Eline is adept at making the complicated simple. The wine-making process begins when the Elines receive or harvest the grapes. About two-thirds of them hail from California's central coast, reaching New Marlborough in a refrigerated truck four or five days after being picked, according to Eline. The rest come from New York's Finger Lakes region or from the vineyard that lies between Les Trois Emme's store and warehouse and the family's home. On two acres, the family grows four different types of grapes: Mar chal Foch, Cayuga White, marquette and chancellor. It's a time-consuming process.

"If they could talk, they'd be my buddies," Eline said of the rows of vines occupying a hilly patch of land surrounded by forest.

In three weeks, Eline said many of the grapes will be ready for use. It's been a long wait for some of them; the Mar chal Foch grapes, for example, have been growing for six years.

Once the Elines import or harvest the grapes, they bring the batches into a room filled with large metallic machines. "This is all the science," Eline says.

They first dump the grapes into a device that has an intimidating screw-like part (an auger conveyor) running the length of its interior. The device de-stems and crushes the fruit. The Elines then attach red hoses to the machine, sending white grapes to a press before they ferment for 20-22 days. Red grapes, on the other hand, go to tanks first, fermenting for 8-10 days with their skin on to retain their color.

The family subsequently cleans the grapes before bringing them into a room next door that is stocked with barrels: the aging room.

"This is the art," Eline said. The family lets the wine sit for about 30 days. "You're enhancing the flavors and aromas," Eline said.

After this period, testing begins. Mary Jane does the honors because she has the best palate, according to her husband — and Mary Jane.

"There isn't anything I can't taste," she said.

"All I want to do is sell great wines, and my wife won't let me sell them unless they're great wines," her husband said.

Still, Eline wishes he could let them age longer sometimes; small wineries have to get their products to market faster to stay alive, he lamented. "I look for the quickest recovery," he said, sounding more businessman than chemist.

Throughout a tour of the facilities, Eline was quick to mention an item's cost (the press, for instance, was $21,000). Neither he nor Mary Jane had ever planned on opening a winery. They bought the land in 1971 and built their house in 1974, according to Eline. But it wasn't until they moved to Virginia for a short period that they became attached to French cuisine and, ultimately, wine. It was a surprise.

"I was a beer drinker. Mary Jane didn't drink much of anything," Eline said.

Eventually the couple returned to New Marlborough and started making wine in their basement. Their children grew attached, and soon they were opening Les Trois Emme. Their sons helped build the space, and it remains a family operation. One of their daughters, Helen, was recently on site, alternating between register duty and mowing the lawn during her summer vacation. (She's a teacher.) The children often participate in "crushing" season, which many believe is the most fun part of the process. Wine-making's final stages are more mechanical — after aging, wines are filtered, bottled, corked and labeled via various machines. The end products, at the moment, are a near-even mix of whites and reds ranging from $16 to $25; customers can taste any five wines for $8 (a special hors d'oeuvre accompanies each). Popular items include Splash of White and the Shiraz Cabernet. The best-seller, however, is the Stingy Jack Pumpkin, a Cayuga White infused with pumpkin spices that Eline one day hopes will be on every family's Thanksgiving dinner table.

For now, he's content with meeting new people — and teaching them about wine. After explaining the process, he entered a peninsular room amongst the machines, hovering over a counter covered with various devices that measure pH, sulfite and sugar, and began another lesson.



IF YOU GO...


WHAT: Les Trois Emme Winery

WHEN: Tasting hours are noon-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 29

WHERE: 8 Knight Road, New Marlborough

INFORMATION: 413-528-1015; ltewinery.com


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