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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
The short answer is “Yes.”
Are you planning to visit wine country this harvest? Where will you go?
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I remember a story about Gil Nickel, the owner of Far Niente
winery (sadly, now deceased) walking the vineyard with his vineyard manager, commenting “Pardon me while I step over my profits.”
There are all kinds of reasons to thin out clusters: For the sake of flavor intensity, to assure the grapes will get sweet enough or to prevent crowding… That’s why you see dried clusters on the ground along with the fresh ones that were just thinned.
But the green harvest is thinning that’s focused on uniformity of ripening. The clusters don’t all ripen at precisely the same rate, so as veraison
, the color change, progresses it’s important to get into the vineyard a few times to see if there are clusters lagging behind – not coloring up the way they should – and thin them out. Sometimes the clusters have small “wings” jutting out at the top and they may not ripen as quickly as the main part of the cluster. So, off they come. Continue reading
photo courtesy of lyzadanger on Flickr
Refractometer? Yup. It plays a very important role, now, as harvest approaches because it measures the sugar in the grapes.
The refractometer is a really nifty little instrument because it gives the winemaker an instant sugar reading. It’s kind of like a prism and measures the soluble solids in the grape juice. All you have to do is squeeze a little juice onto the lens of the refractometer. When you hold it up to the light it measures how much the light bends as it passes through the liquid. The denser the liquid, the more the light bends and the higher the reading will be (about 90% of the soluble solids is sugar).
Why is the sugar so important? It determines the alcohol. The winemaker can assume that a little over half of the sugar measured at harvest will result in alcohol in the finished, dry wine. So, if the grape sample measures 25% sugar the wine will be in the ballpark of 13.5 – 14% alcohol.
Incidentally, the degrees Brix, another wine word, translates to the percentage of sugar. 25 degrees brix = 25% sugar. So, you got a two-fer!
Other important components? Continue reading
Yes, it’s important for winemakers to concentrate on what they’re doing, but in the wine business the word, concentrate, has other implications.
How interesting that in Napa Valley, a region known for warm, sunny weather and generous alcohols, thanks to high grape sugars, right now winemakers are trying to get their hands on grape juice concentrate to supplement the sugar that’s lacking this year.
Concentrate for wine is unfermented grape juice that’s boiled down to be concentrated to nearly 70% sugar! Wine grapes at harvest usually come in, in the low to high 20s so 70% is extremely sweet and syrupy. The best is boiled in a partial vacuum, which reduces the boiling point so the juice isn’t too cooked in flavor. It can be added to the crushed fruit in the tank to bump up the sweetness which bumps up the alcohol.
I was talking with a grape grower/winemaker at choir rehearsal the other night and he said you can’t buy concentrate for love nor money at this point in this very difficult harvest. The 2011 growing seaon, here, has been extremely cool and the grapes need heat to ripen. We also had considerable rain in October which dilutes the sugar down. For those growers whose grapes didn’t rot in the rain, waiting for th sugar to come up in these cool temperatures is an exercise in frustration. Continue reading
The mention of botrytis draws very different reactions, depending upon who you’re talking to.
What is it? It’s rot. It belongs in this year’s harvest vocabulary because there’s lots of it around.
In my last post I talked about the problems associated with rain and, of course, rot is one of them. Some varieties are more resistant than others: Thin-skinned and tight-clustered varieties are the most vulnerable. We tend to think that tough-skinned varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, will weather a storm quite nicely unless it just goes on and on (which it hasn’t).
However – a friend who grows Cabernet grower told me that she’s had to thin out botrytis in her vineyard so it doesn’t spread. Bummer!
So, there’s that word again. It’s nearly always a bad word, but it does have a place in the world of winemaking. I sent a quick email to Roger Harrison, of RA Harrison Family Cellars, to check with him on his outlook for this vintage. His reply? “I’m the only man in the valley who’s smiling.”
You see, Roger only makes late-harvest, Sauternes-style wine and for that you actually need botrytis! Say what?
Yup! Under the right conditions, it perforates the grapeskins and the grapes start to dehydrate, concentrating the sugar and flavor. And, believe it or not the botrytis, itself, gives the wine a distinctive honeyed character that, once experienced, is never forgotten. Continue reading
Such an “interesting” crush this year! Well, we don’t like interesting – we prefer things to be blissfully boring (as my husband pointed out, I’m acting like I’m a grower or winemaker this year – I’m not. But after upteen+ years of working for wineries and having friends who own vineyards and/or wineries I feel 100% invested in what happens).
Napa Valley is famous for blissfully boring weather. Warm, sunny days… cool, foggy nights… month after month of dry weather during the growing season… It works out really well! Not this year.
We had a wet, rainy spring, even into June. Rain during flowering disrupted pollination, effectively thinning the crop. Never really had a summer, so a season that was already running late got even later.
And then Mother Nature had the temerity to drop a bucket of rain on us the first week of October! As it turns out, it had a major impact on growers who still had their white varieties and their Pinot Noir out – yucky, rotten grapes. Those who hustled to get them in before the rain should have quite a good vintage. Probably lower in alcohol than normal, but that’s certainly better than rot! In fact many sommeliers see it as a real plus! Late ripening, thick skinned varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon came through quite nicely. Continue reading