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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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Today’s Wine Word: Hangtime

Picking

That’s what it’s all about, this time of year, and hangtime is an easy one because it’s 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 which tells you the sugar is on its way up and the tart acid on the way down. Well, it’s just the same with grapes.

The best winemakers want the grapes at peak maturity, just like a great chef needs to buy the best meat and produce. There’s only so much you can do with average-quality ingredients in a restaurant or a winery. This is where hangtime really comes into play.

In our warm climate here in the Napa Valley, the sugar builds quite readily and the acid softens quickly too. Since the sugar provides the alcohol and alcohol gives wine much of its body, it’s important to pick at the right moment. But, is the flavor development in line with the increase in sugar? Not always, in a warm climate. Sometimes the sugar reading (brix) screams “PICK ME!” at the winemaker, but the flavors haven’t quite turned the corner.

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