Tag Archives: wine harvest

Today’s Wine Word: Press

pressing
As you’ve probably heard, crush in Napa Valley was early this year. And for most producers, it’s been over for at least a week or two. Exhale…
But, for red wine, the work isn’t over quite yet. There’s still a little pressing to do. the winemakers are greedily getting the last bit of color and flavor out of the grape skins for their reds before sending them off to the barrel cellar.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of confusion about the difference between crushing and pressing, so let’s get it straightened out. Here goes…

The Stemmer-Crusher

This machine is first stop for most reds when they come in from the vineyard. It removes the stems and breaks the grape skins open. When you’re finished crushing, you’ve still got the skins and seeds,which go right into the fermentation tank with the juice. As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor in red wine comes from the skins.

The press

The press leaves the winemaker with only liquid, however cloudy.

Think of the press as a giant strainer. Picture yourself dropping broken grapes into this strainer. Of course,some of  the juice runs off. Then, you push down with your fist to squeeze more liquid out of the skins. That’s pressing. There are a few different styles of presses a winemaker can use, but I won’t bore you with that unless you ask.  Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Crush Widow

Have you ever heard of a crush widow? Here’s the story:

Maybe you’d like to take a lonely crush widow – or widower – to lunch! Cheers!

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September 5, 2013 · 7:50 pm

Today’s Wine Word: Brix

What’s the word on every grower’s and winemaker’s lips right now? Brix!

How sweet is that? ;-)

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Today’s Wine Word: Crush

lucy

“Crush” has just begun in Napa Valley. Kind of early this year – at least two weeks, if not more.

The term is used as a synonym for the harvest. And, of course, it brings to mind images of Lucy, madly stomping away on the purple moosh in a large vat, and over-competing with her co-worker.

If you want to appear in the know you’d say “I go to Napa Valley every year for crush.” Or “Of course, the weather during crush is has a huge impact on the vintage.”

But, when it comes to actual winemaking, I find that people are a little confused as to what crushing actually means. It’s very often confused with pressing.

DeltaE2_2002For winemaking, crushing is the first step , after the grapes are picked, for nearly all red wines and most whites. In most cases, the winemaker uses a stainless steel machine that first de-stems and then breaks the grapes open (crushes them.) The best producers will sort out the yucky stuff (don’t ask ;-) )before the clusters go into this machine.  Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Hangtime

Picking

I was tasting with a  client today and noticed that they already had fermenting Sauvignon Blanc samples out on the tasting counter. That’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc I’m referring to! And, the winemaker who handles the reds says they’ll bring in some Pinot Noir next week. All of this reconfirms that harvest is early this year. What does it mean in terms of quality? Who knows?

But it reminds me that the #1 topic at harvest time is “hang time.” The term is literal. It refers to the length of time the grapes hang on the vine before they’re harvested.

If you’ve grown tomatoes, you know that when the tomatoes first appear on the vine in early summer they’re hard, green and you don’t even think about tasting them because you know that they’re sour.  As the summer goes on they plump out, soften up and begin to change color and you know that the sugar is on its way up and the tartness (acid) is on the way down. Well, it’s just the same with grapes. Continue reading

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Are the Grapes Harvested Mechanically?

Since I wrote about the beginning of harvest, some of you have asked if the grapes are picked by hand or machine. The short answer is yes:

Harvest started early and with a bang, on August 1st, and then slowed down dramatically with unseasonably cool weather in the early part of the month. It’s probably a good thing – it will give the grapes more “hangtime,” which translates into richer, riper flavors.

How do you feel about mechanical harvesting?

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Today’s Wine Word: Green Harvest

dyer_gr_harvest

“Drop crop”… “Green Thinning”… “Green Harvest”… Whatever you like to call it the term is literal and refers to removing green, immature clusters and dropping them on the ground. It may seem a bit obtuse to be removing perfectly viable fruit that isn’t even mature yet, but it’s often done in the name of flavor intensity and it can happen at several times during the growing season.

The first round may be just after flowering and fruitset, which typically happens in mid to late May. Winter pruning and springtime shoot thinning are done with certain yields in mind. If the vines are overly generous on any given year it’s smart to thin out the excess so the rest can ripen properly and be flavorful, not diluted in taste. Continue reading

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The Second Crop is for the Birds

2nd_crop_tablas_creek

Walking through the vineyard with a friend, she noticed lots of very small clusters left on the vine, mixed in with the leafy growth. She wondered why they left those clusters behind during the harvest.

Those little clusters are a special treat for the birds this time of year. The regular, main crop, is found very close to what looks like the old part of the vine in most vineyards. The crop forms on new growth, but near the old growth, if that makes sense. the way many vineyards are trained these days, as bi-lateral cordons with vertical shoot positioning, you see the main crop hanging kind of like a chorus line, along the lowest trellis wire. The second crop is further up those vertical shoots, hanging off of the lateral shoots rather than on the main shoot. 

In any case, what I told her is that the very small “second crop” ripens significantly later that the main crop, so if the pickers were to go after it, it would throw the wine out of balance. There would be unexpected tart flavors and, for reds, harsh tannins.

The second crop is so small that it’s not usually worth the bother. It could be that a home winemaker will ask for permission to harvest the second crop for his wine – if it ever actually ripens, that is. The grapes tasted nice and sweet, but not sweet enough. And the weather is cool, now, with daylight hours getting shorter by the day. So, we enjoyed a few grapes. Other than that, the second crop is for the birds!

And, speaking of birds, happy Turkey Day! Cheers!

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Today’s Wine Word: Brix

Well, this is a timely question: Susan wants to know what “Brix” means.

The small instrument you saw at the beginning is called a refractometer. It’s a prism-like instrument that measures the soluble solids in the grape juice, 90% of which is sugar. 

Have you ever tasted just-picked wine grapes? Soooo sweet!

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Sugar, Acid, pH: Why you Care

Boxes_

So, we’ve established that it’s harvest time and talked about the importance of hangtime – getting the grapes in at the right time – but haven’t said too much about the role of the sugar, acid and pH in your glass of wine.  

I wrote a fairly detailed article about this for Snooth, so I’ll just go over it once, lightly here today. 

Sugar (Brix): As you know, the sugar converts to alcohol during fermentation so it’s pretty-darned important. The predictable outcome at the end of fermentation is that just over half the sugar converts to alcohol. So, if the winemaker picks grapes that are 24% sugar (or 24 degrees brix) he can expect to end with about 13 or 13.5% alcohol. 

Alcohol gives wine most of its body or weight. A Cabernet from a poor growing season that’s low in alcohol will probably feel rather thin and unsatisfying on the palate. On the other hand, if the alcohol is too high the heat may tickle your nose or feel really hot on your palate. It’s not supposed to draw attention to itself – it’s just supposed to be there. High alcohol also gives the wine a sense of sweetness. 

Acid: Maybe the term isn’t attractive to you. It makes you think of battery acid or something awful like that. But when it’s balanced with the other components it’s an incredible asset. It keeps the color bright, makes even a full-bodied style seem lively, helps the wine to age and makes it food friendly. In the vineyard, as the sugar goes up, the acid goes down. In a warm climate, like Napa Valley, we worry about not enough, which can make the wine flat tasting – doesn’t leave you wanting that next sip  – and short lived. No one talks about it, but wineries routinely adjust the acid in the cellar. Cool climates worry about painfully tart acidity. So, again, it’s a question of balance. Continue reading

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