Tag Archives: wine harvest

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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Today’s Wine Word: Whole-Cluster Pressing

White_grapes

Since white varieties are the main thing being harvested at this early point in the annual crush, it’s a good time to talk about whole-cluster pressing. You’ll see references to it in the wine maker notes for high-end white wines. 

In white wine production, to keep the flavors delicate and free of astringency only the juice is fermented. So, standard procedure is to run the freshly-picked clusters through a machine that quickly pulls off the stems and breaks the grape skins open – a stemmer-crusher. 

Then the crushed grapes are sent to the press, which is like a giant strainer. A whole lot of juice runs off into a drip pan on its own. When the flow begins to let up, pressure is applied to increase the yield. And, away the juice goes to a tank or barrel to be fermented. 

That’s good. 

But, high-quality whites often forgo the stemmer-crusher to be pressed immediately. I know it sounds like you save time, by skipping a step, but it actually slows the whole thing down significantly a bit. From a cellar worker’s perspective, it’s a pain. Continue reading

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Are the Grapes Hand or Machine Harvested?

The short answer is “Yes.”

Are you planning to visit wine country this harvest? Where will you go?

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When Will the 2012 Vintage be For Sale?

Boxes

 

Question from Maureen: If it’s harvest time now, when will the wine be for sale? 

Reply: Hi, Maureen. Thanks for writing! The short answer is anywhere from this November through up to as many as five years from now, depending upon the style.

The thing is that making wine doesn’t take much time at all. Excluding some very small categories of wine, reds usually ferment dry within a week, or so, and whites may take up to a month.

So, it’s a matter of whether or not the wine needs to age. 

The fastest wine to hit the market is Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a light red wine that’s made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, in the southern part of Burgundy. They harvest the grapes in September and go into high gear getting it fermented, cleaned up and ready for bottling before the traditional release date of the third Thursday in November. That takes an incredible amount of organization, getting it out the door that fast.

Incidentally, the release date dovetails nicely with Thanksgiving. Because the wine isn’t heavy or tannic it’s quite versatile at the table. Plus, it’s fun to drink something that was fruit on the vine just weeks ago. Beaujolais Nouveau is also one of the few reds that tastes good chilled, so it’s great with summertime barbecue – if you can find it by then – they usually make just enough to sell out within a few months of release. 

Wineries that produce wine that doesn’t need to be aged (whites, rosés, popular price reds – most of the world’s wine, really) but aren’t under such pressure to get the wine to market will release their wine the following winter or spring, most likely, unless they have a warehouse full of the previous vintage.  

Fine reds, some high-end whites and dessert wines are the ones that usually need the most age. They spend months or even years in the barrel or cask, followed by some bottle age. Recently, I interviewed Maria Helm Sinskey and the current vintage of their Meritage-style blend was 2006. They hold it until they decide it’s ready for you. 

Leave it to the Europeans to have regulations on how long to age the wine. Chianti wine may be released on March 1st of the year following harvest. Chianti Classico (the heart of Chianti) must be aged at least seven months and Chianti Classico Riserva requires   minimum of 27 months. 

So, it seems that even the simplest question isn’t simple. But, I hope that helps! Cheers! 

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Today’s Wine Word: Crush Widow

 Have you ever heard of a crush widow? This time of year in wine country there are lots of them: 

Next time you’re in wine country for harvest, take a lonely crush widow to lunch! Cheers!

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Today’s Wine Word: Refractometer

Refractometer

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

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Today’s Wine Word: Veraison

Veraison

Aren’t the purty? There’s something so sweet and lovely about the clusters as they begin to blush and change color. By the time they’re finished they’ll be almost black in color. 

And, the color change is such a significant event that there’s a name for it – French, of course 😉 – veraison. 

Veraison signals that the shoots have stopped growing and that the vine’s energy has shifted into fruit ripening. It’s a kind of code language to the vineyard manager and the cellar master to get it together for crush because the grapes will be pounding on the door before long. 

Veraison is usually complete within about ten days, if the weather’s good. Shortly after, the vineyard manager will get a baseline sugar reading. Folks who are called field samplers are hired to walk the vine rows, collecting grape samples. Because most vineyards are harvested only once, they get specific instructions from the vineyard manager because the sample needs to represent the section of vineyard as a whole. The winemaker wants an average reading of sugar, acid and pH. Continue reading

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Cool vs Warm-Climate Wine

Black_grapes

We’re having such a lovely summer this year in Napa Valley. Our days have been made up of comfortably warm daytime temperatures followed by chilly, foggy nights with the occasional brief blast of heat, so far, which happens to be the  formula for an excellent Napa Valley vintage!

Marty wrote in to ask about frequent references I make to warm vs. cool-climate wine and this is a great time of year to talk about it, although the real story can’t be written until harvest is over, hopefully by Halloween. 

If you like to garden, you know how seasonal temperatures affect the ripening pattern of your fruit and vegetables. Imagine trying to ripen tomatoes on your patio if you live San Francisco, where it’s foggy daily, in the summertime, and temperatures rarely rise above 65F.  Those are going to be some tart, green tomatoes, right?  The same thing applies to grapes.  They start out with high levels of acid, low levels of sugar, and vegetative flavors.  As the weeks go by they gain fruitiness and sweetness, and the acid decreases, provided they get enough heat and sun. So, depending upon where they’re grown they’ll ripen slowly or quickly and end up tasting more or less ripe since the level of sugar and acidity is affected.  Continue reading

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Warm Climate, Cool Climate

Harvest

Last time I waxed eloquent about our lovely morning fog here in Napa Valley. Of course, we haven’t had any since then…

Anyway, I thought it might be a good time to take a closer look at how climate influences your enjoyment. That’s what it’s all about, right?

As we said before, world wide, the best winegrowing regions tend to have Mediterranean climates and the growers in each region want the same thing: enough sun and heat to bring the grapes to complete ripeness, but not so much that they lose too much acidity along the way. And, each region has its challenges.    

If you like to garden, you know how seasonal temperatures affect the ripening pattern of your fruit and vegetables. Imagine trying to ripen tomatoes on your patio if you live San Francisco, where it’s foggy daily in the summertime, and temperatures rarely rise above 65F.  Those are going to be some tart, green tomatoes, right?  The same thing applies to grapes. They start out with high levels of acid, low levels of sugar, and relatively vegetative flavors. As the weeks go by they gain fruitiness and sweetness, and the acid decreases, provided they get enough heat and sun. So, depending upon where they’re grown they’ll ripen slowly or quickly and end up tasting more or less ripe since the level of sugar and acidity is affected.

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Napa Valley Harvest Update

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

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