Monthly Archives: September 2011

When is Harvest?


Question from Jim: When  is harvest? 

Reply: What a perfectly timed question – for the northern hemisphere, harvest is now! For us, harvest starts in late summer or early fall depending upon the weather, the variety and the style.

Of course the southern hemisphere already has a 2011 vintage because they harvested late winter/early spring this year.

Since we produce so many different wines here in the Napa Valley, we’re a good reference for a wide number of varieties and styles.

If we have a normal year, whatever that means, we start with sparkling wine, usually in mid August, and they usually finished by early September. Continue reading


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Today’s Wine Word: Brix

This is a seasonal word, for sure. And, it should be on the rise, this week, with all this lovely, warm weather! 

Brix is a measurement of sugar. 24 degrees brix translates to 24% sugar. After such a cool summer, here, the grapes are at least two weeks behind in maturity so the brix is very much on the winemakers’ minds.

One of my clients reported 19 degrees brix a few days ago in her Petit Verdot. You can figure that the sugar will increase by about a little less than 1% a week in normal weather – whatever that means ;-). So, if she’s looking for 24 degrees brix at harvest she’s still about five weeks out. Let’s hope we don’t run into rain! 

So, winemakers check the brix with increasing frequency as the grapes ripen.

Why is sugar so important? It determines the alcohol. You can figure that a little over half the sugar will convert to alcohol during the fermentation. So, starting at 24 brix you can expect to end up with 13 or 13.5% alcohol in the finished dry wine.  Continue reading

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What’s the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot?

Question from Steve: Am I the only one that finds it hard to tell the difference between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon? How do I tell them apart?  
Reply: Hi, Steve. I think it’s confusing for a lot of people and I salute you for being the one with the courage to ask the question. BTW, what is it about wine that makes everyone feel like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t know everything about wine? A <a href="” target=”_blank”>Master of Wine once said something that really rings true: “No on can master wine. There’s too much to know.” So, no need to feel insecure, right?

The truth is that Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon make wines that taste quite similar, as most winemakers will tell you. Both varieties come from the Bordeaux region of France, where they’re traditionally blended together.

In fact, Merlot is the most widely planted variety in Bordeaux which is probably because it ripens early than Cabernet Sauvignon. If the late-ripening Cabernet gets rained out, early-ripening Merlot can save the vintage. Continue reading

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Sabering the Champagne (Sabre le Champagne)!

Another gruelling day in class at the Culinary Institute of America! Our instructor, Catherine Fallis, brutally decapitated a bottle of poor, defenseless Champagne with a saber! 

And then, she made us drink it! Cripes! 

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