The Vineyard

While we are most definitely fans of the cocktail, especially drinks mixed with our very own a. vod vodka, we also appreciate well-made artisanal wine, either as an aperitivo or with a meal. AKA’s president Larry Korman, who resides in Fort Washington, PA, also happens to live adjacent to one of Pennsylvania’s finest wineries, Karamoor Estate Wines, and we have been able to partner with Karamoor, its owners Nick and Athena Karabots, and winemaker Kevin Robinson, to bottle several cuveés of their refined wines for use at AKA around the country. We made two visits to the estate, one in the summer to meet the Karabots and tour the beautiful farm, and second, in October to participate in the harvest and watch the initial phases of winemaking.

Karamoor Estate owners Nick and Athena Karabots relax in one of the vineyards in Fort Washington, PA during the summer months, before harvest. The Karamoor Farm is 275 acres in total, with 27 acres planted to vines. The Karabots have called Karamoor home since the early 1970s. The first vineyards were planted in 2003 under the guidance of viticulturist Lucie Morton, who studied the geography and planted Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, varietals she felt would grow best in this climate.

Karamoor Estate owners Nick and Athena Karabots speak with neighbor and AKA president Larry Korman during the summer. The Karabots have been committed to making the best wine in the region and pursue this passion with a commitment to good farming practices with as minimal intervention in the vineyard as possible.

In 2012, The Karabots hired University of California at Davis–trained winemaker Kevin Robinson, who had at the time 26 years–experience making wines with some of the great California producers such as Merry Edwards and David Ramey. Robinson was given one edict: make the best wines that the estate could produce! Kevin is holding a bottle of a. vin Meritage, a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winemaker Kevin Robinson in the barrel-aging room of the estate. Some of the Karamoor wines are aged in used oak, imparting additional complexity. Robinson is judicious in his use of oak, in order to let the individual grape varietals’ flavor profile come through, and not be overpowered by strong oaky flavors.

Karamoor’s winemaking facility is state-of-the-art, thanks to the commitment to quality and investment of the Karabots. These are temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks in the winery. Winemaker Robinson utilizes precise temperature control during fermentation in order to control the speed of the ferment, and also to insure that distinct aromatic profiles are not erased due to a fermentation that occurs at too high a temperature.

On the harvest day in early October when we visited, we observed Cabernet Sauvignon grapes being picked by hand. This vintage was very difficult – there was more than 10 days straight of rain prior to harvest day – and many of the Cabernet grapes were lost due to rot. Winemaker Robinson decided, based on the difficulty of the weather conditions, to make one parcel of Cabernet into a rosé, which would be more forgiving. After the grapes are hand-picked they are placed into one-ton plastic bins, which is being emptied in the winery into the pneumatic grape press, which will gently press the grapes, releasing the perfumed juice.

Winemaking is very technical, and keeping track of what wine, from which plot, is important. This is a sign on one of the stainless fermentation tanks indicating that Sauvignon Blanc harvested on September 12, 2018 is in process of fermenting.

Depending on the desired results, some of the red wines are fermented in smaller batches (here, a one-ton plastic bin). The bin is covered, but intermittently ‘punched-down’, which is winemaker terminology for the process of pushing down into the juice the ‘cap’ which consists of all of the solids such as skins, seeds, pips that naturally rise to the top of the liquid. Think of the cap like a tea bag – if the solids aren’t pushed back down into the liquid then many of the flavor and structure compounds won’t be produced in the liquid and the resulting wine may be insipid and flabby.

Winemaker Kevin Robinson performs a ‘punch-down’ of the sold-matter ‘cap’ during the fermentation of one of the Karamoor red wines. Behind Kevin are oak barrels used for slow aging.

When we visited in early October, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were being hand-picked by a team of 12 workers, starting at 7:00 am in the morning. The early start is so that the grapes can be picked while they are still cool from the overnight temperature drop. This work is very physical and demanding, and this year, due to the large amounts of rain, was made more challenging as each bunch of grapes had to be carefully inspected for any sign of rot before bin placed into the yellow harvest bins.

A detail of a small bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the vineyard. One can see a small amount of rot in the bunch, due to the persistent rain preceding the harvest. In order to make the quality of wine that Karamoor demands, each of these bunches is purged of the rotted grapes before going into the bins.

Workers at Karamoor carefully pick through grapes as they are added to the one-ton bin, in order to remove any defective grapes as well as any extraneous pieces of vines. This process, while tedious, helps to make the best tasting wine.

The vines are planted very narrowly in neat rows, but just wide enough for a small tractor to be able to drive through with two one-ton harvest bins on the back. As workers pick the grape bunches, they place them in small yellow bins, then a three-man crew drives down the row adding the grapes from the yellow bins into the larger one-ton white plastic bins.