"Laying the Game Plan"
5:32 AM Aug. 16, 2008 - 0 comments - [ post comment ]
Yesterday, I ran some sample fruit up to the winery for analysis. I have been monitoring the Brix (sugar level) readings for the past month, and I have been constantly surprised at how fast the Zin has been progressing. My feelings were confirmed when the Brix, TA (total acidity) and pH readings all came back and said... "Pick now!" ... OMG!!! this is a full month early! Harvest is alot like having a baby. The Doctor can give you a due date, but the baby shows up when they are good & ready. Seems , much like my eldest daughter was, they are ready to go a full month early..
Preparing for crush involves a number of things. Checking equipment that you haven't used for a year, cleaning, moving equipment into place on the crushpad, cleaning, clearing space for fermentation, cleaning, checking & prepping hoses, ... did I mention cleaning?
This is also the time of year that a winemaker lays out his or her plan for harvest. As a winemaker, this time of year becomes nerve racking. you get only one shot at getting everything right, and you cannot do anything differently for another year. You begin with having an understanding of what the vineyard will give you. The more familiar you are with the vineyard, the easier it is to know what to expect, what to do or not do. Understanding the vineyards also allows you to work with the grower regarding pick. If you walk the vineyards, know what is going on, then you can have them pick from one row, but not another. You may find that one row has had broken irrigation line, the leaf pulls were not done correctly or that the fruit on the morning side of the vineyard is superior to the fruit on the afternoon side of the vineyard. Knowledge is power.
You also lay out the plans for what and how to go thru fermentation. What yeast to use? What nutrients? these can have a huge impact on your wines. A yeast that cannot motor thru fermentation or is not tolerant of certain temperature ranges can lead to a stuck fermentation or worse. Yeast also has alot to do with everything from color retention, to flavors & aromas. Deciding which of the many different yeasts to use is only the beginning.
How you want to approach fermentation is also critical to your wines and winemaking style. Cold Soak? punch down regimen? whole cluster fermentation? hand sort the fruit? how much if any stems & jacks ( the little bits of the stem the grapes attach to) do you leave in? This is the stage where you lay out how you think you want to go to work on the fruit. The best part, though is that as John Lennon said.. "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans" The best laid plans are going to change and you have to deal with what comes your way during crush. Never let anyone kid you about this. Forget all the crap on the back of your wine bottle. Remember that wine is a living organic thing, and as such it is never the same, it is always different and you can never fully predict what and how things are going to happen.
One of the great tragedies of the growth of the wine business is that when you visit wineries, you almost never meet & talk with the winemakers. Instead, you chat with a tasting room employee who is generally more interested in a) what he or she is going to be doing on Friday night or b) getting you to sign up for their wine club so that they get a bonus. If you really want to understand the wine, find the winemaker. This is a great reason to get off the beaten path when touring wine country and get out to the small artisan and cult wineries. You will come back with more knowledge and appreciation from one visit, than a month at a large winery.... and you'll probably enjoy some kick ass wines!
Next blog.... "Picking at Harvest"