Sommer Solstice’s Fruit Wine and Apple Vodka: The Rise of the Hybrid

Sommer Solstice's Fruit Wine and Apple Vodka: The Rise of the Hybrid

Crafted in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the hybrid produced by Sommer Solstice (thanks to a joint effort between Apple Country Spirits and Young Sommer Winery) is a unique hybrid made with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s fortified and sweetened with Tree Vodka, a spirit distilled from locally-grown NY apples. The result? A unique blend with a touch you haven’t tasted before.

We talked to Herman Young from Young Sommer Winery to understand what makes this new hybrid so unique and why you need to try it out.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit about how the idea for a hybrid came about?

HY: Long story, – it goes back to 1986 or so when we visited Wilma’s uncle in Germany (Wilma Sommer, my wife, is German-born). I spent the day with Uncle Benny visiting his neighbors and fell in love with his Apple Schnapps (Berentzen). When we returned home, we found where we could get it supplied in the Rochester area and always had a bottle of it at home.

Move ahead several years, and we are starting our winery and had that Berentzen Apple Schnapps in the back of our minds for a future product. We knew that we couldn’t distil anything ourselves, but were somewhat successful in making something that was similar by blending one of our apple wines and fortifying it with grape spirits. As it was somewhat unconventional, I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed with TTB and SLA for approvals. We experimented with several of our wines and struck up the notion of simulating a “port style” wine by fortifying one of our red blends. I had seen where others were fortifying wines with grape spirits and seeing how we wanted to be a bit different.

I wanted to use the apple spirits to fortify our grape wine, and so we looked to our neighbors at Apple Country Spirits to obtain their TREE Vodka apple spirit. In the meantime, we figured out that we needed an approval for a formula wine and were successful in getting both the formula and labels approved. We experimented with Apple Country Spirits’ TREE Vodka, blending it into the red wine, and found that our Meritage Blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were all a good base.

Last fall we produced our first blend of our Senshu Apple Wine with apple spirits – named Apfel Breeze in honor of Uncle Benny.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the hybrid, what it tastes like, what you actually mix?

HY: Our Sommer Solstice is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with TREE Vodka apple spirits. Our Sommer Equinox is a blend of our Lemberger and apple spirits while our Apfel Breeze is the blend of our Senshu Apple Wine with apple spirits.

As for taste, there is a balance and tannin touch of the red wine in the cases of the Solstice and Equinox with hints of the oak flavoring followed with a sweeter finish and the warmth of the spirits in the lingering taste. For the Apfle Breeze, the smooth flavor of the apple wine comes out immediately while it offers a sweeter finish and then a final warmth from the spirits.

QUESTION: How does mixing vodka and wine works? What’s the actual process like?

HY: The process is pretty simple once we worked out the right volumes of each ingredient to achieve a finished product at 20% alcohol by volume. As with all of our wines, we handle each element carefully, ensuring that the flavors and purity are not compromised. For all of the blends, we allow the ingredients to integrate for two to three months before we attempt to finish by filtering and bottling.

QUESTION: What kind of properties from each item (wine/vodka) are enhanced in the mix? How do they complement each other?

HY: I think it is more of how they complement each other rather than enhance. The flavors of each wine are still preserved, allowing the characteristic of each blend to come forward (tannins, richness etc.) with the mid-palate slightly enhanced as the spirits start to wake up your senses before the warmer finish spirits deliver the final ‘wow.’

Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website

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