I am often reminded of just how little some in the industry know when it comes to harvesting their crop. Yes, those best laid plans of trying to achieve the perfect wine, and yet they squander the opportunity early on while tasting in the vineyard. Let me tell you, it’s part amusing, frustrating, and ignorant all rolled up into one big ball. Walking a vineyard with a colleague who has never made a mistake in his life (no names), I was reminded of how silly some could be! He starts by spurting off his great love of Burgundy and how his wines are so close to the same. Answering, I asked when was the last time Burgundy produced a fifteen or sixteen percent alcohol wine? He mumbled something under his breath then regrouped and said the grapes must be ripe before harvest. I again could not resist and asked what does that mean and what about the acid? He mumbled again and informed me if the grapes are too acidic then they won’t make good wine, you must taste the sweetness and see no green seeds. What a bunch of bunk! As a side note, the same person happened to come by our winery when we were sorting some fruit and while picking up a cluster and tasting, he said, “Boy, that’s a lot of acid.” It’s enough to make you laugh and to tell you the truth, I do. If we allow grapes to get ripe enough, then why have a variety of grapes? They will all taste the same after a while.
This same scenario replays itself throughout the vineyards of the world. Many who are molded into thinking the same thing and pick only after it’s way too late. My Co-Winemaker, Eric, said it best when he opined that if you wait until the fruit tastes really good then it’s way too late. I could not agree more. We are not picking table grapes; we are picking fine wine grapes. There is a world of difference between the two. One you eat with cheese on a plate the other you ferment. While your palate will surely gravitate towards the sweetness in the over ripe fruit, you need some wisdom and self control that sadly many do not. The higher the sugar, the lower the natural acid. So what are you left with and what do you need to do next?
You have a choice of two winemakers making the same type of wine but their approach and style are completely different. To set this up they are grapes from the same vineyard and both have all the tools they can muster at their disposal. Here are your choices.
Winemaker one takes in his fruit after fumbling around in the vineyard and decides the grapes are nice and sweet, even raisins. He brings them in at 25 to 30 brix (the measurement of sugar), with a very high Ph and low acid. First things first, harvesting such sweet grapes he now has to add water or re-hydrate the fruit. Not just a little water, were talking say in a two ton fermenter, depending on how low he wants the sugar to drop, it could be 20 to 75 gallons. Then he has to add acid. Since the natural acid was so low he adds tartaric acid. Sounds yummy, hey? It is, if you like a thick gumminess on your palate. After this you will likely add a cultivated yeast since you can’t get the wine to finish on its diminished native yeast and because it’s so high in alcohol. After fermentation you might have further additions but be assured your wine is destined to be varietal “incorrect”, high in alcohol and yummy gummy flavor.
Winemaker two has chose to pick early, add nothing and let the vineyard and varietal express itself!
What will you choose? Please do your homework and you will be rewarded with a greater wine experience.
Too all that care,