Today’s Wine Word: Seed Maturity


Seed maturity?

I think I’ve talked a lot about the importance of getting samples from the vineyard to track the sugar, acid, pH and flavor maturity but seed maturity is important, too.

Why? Because if the seeds are still green and spongy they’ll impart nasty, bitter flavors to the wine. The tannins that come from the grape skins are the nice, supple good guys.

So, how do they know the seeds are mature? Elementary, as they say…

When they bring grape samples into the lab they juice the grapes to check the sugar, etc. Then, they spread out the skins and seeds to get a look. Mature seeds are brown and crunchy, like Grape-Nuts cereal. There’s no avoiding extracting seed tannin during the fermentation, but at least it’s mature seed tannin and isn’t quite so harsh.

Chewing on the grape skins will reveal if they’ve gone from hard to nice and chewy and if the intensity of the tannins has softened.

The winemaker also needs to walk the vineyard to get a look at the shoots and stems. The vineyard lets the grower or winemaker know it’s finished for the season with browning stems and shoot tips that are rounding off. Vigorously growing shoots have spear-like tips.

The Napa Valley harvest is probably about 2/3 finished. The early ripeners: sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir are all in and a lot of mid-season varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are safely in the barn, too. At this point the last of those mid season ripeners are coming in with the first of the late varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Both quantity and quality are terrific, which is a wonderful thing after four short vintages in a row. Cheers!

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