Today’s Wine Word: Berry Sampling


Photo courtesy of Carosaurus on Flickr

In the last post we cleaned up our virtual vineyard by doing a “green harvest.” We culled out the slow to ripen clusters and berries from the rest of the crop. So, now we’re ready to begin berry-sampling, or “field sampling.”  

This is literally gathering a The vast majority of vineyards are only harvested once, so we need to gather representative samples from each section, or block, of the vineyard. We’ll crush the samples for analysis and tasting back home at our virtual winery so we know how far along we are and when we might harvest the section. 

So, we grab a zip-loc bag or a bucket and head out to the vineyard to start walking the rows. Walk and grab some berries, walk and grab, walk and grab… The main influences on maturation are light, heat and soil moisture and these things are variable in any block, no matter how small. So, first up, we visually approximate the percentage of the clusters that are shaded and gather accordingly. We take grapes from either side of the vine (morning vs. afternoon sun exposure). We make sure to grab some grapes from different parts of the vine – those near the center of the vine (the head) and those that are literally out on a limb. Do the stems look green (less ripe) or brown (ripe, but not brittle we hope)? We should also take grapes from different parts of the cluster – the top, bottom and middle and also from either side of the cluster. A vit professor will teach you to sample the vines by quadrants but when I’ve talked to winemakers and others, who do this annually, it becomes almost instinctive. 

Once we’ve got 100+ berries in the bag it’s time to head back to the winery to crush ’em up and check ’em. 

Most dark varieties look nearly black at maturity, so there’s one indicator. White varieties go from opaque green to luminous shades of green, yellow and even amber, depending upon the variety.

Take a look at the seeds. If they look green they’re not mature and will impart nasty, harsh green tannins to the wine (alcohol is like a solvent.) When they’re mature they’re brown and crunch up in your mouth like grape-nuts cereal. 

Taste the juice. Vegetal character means less ripe, fruity flavors, more ripe. Dried fruit flavor: oops!

Then we use the refractometer to check the sugar, we titrate to measure acidity and use a pH meter for the pH. Flavor trumps all in  fine-wine production. Cheers!

Soon: Why sugar, acid and pH matter. 

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