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(Another) Year in the Vineyard,
Week #26: September 3-9, 2010
The Winery is Ready, The Grapes are Not!
Welcome, once again to another episode of ‘Year in the Vineyard’. Well, we’re counting down to the madness that is harvest and crush, but for now we’re a bit relaxed—stuck between the business of bottling and the beginning of harvest.
The barrels and tanks are all clean and empty in the winery, and we’re spending some time in the vineyard dropping thjose last few green or pink clusters on the ground sol that the fruit remaining is perfectly and consistently ripe. We also are testing the fruit a few times a week for sugar and pH content. This gives us a good indication of the style, alcohol content and structure of the wine that would result from any given moment if we pulled the trigger and started harvesting grapes.
(Another) Year in the Vineyard with Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe
Week #25: August 27th – September 2nd, 2010
“September Morn: We Picked Until the Night Became a Brand New Day”
Damn! September crept up on us on cat feet! Suddenly, all in one week, we have bottled our entire 2009 production (last Friday), and picked our first pinot noir for sparkling wine (yesterday, Wednesday, September 1st). The vineyard has enjoyed a few days (2 to be specific) of summer weather…not neatrly as hot as the last small heat spike, but just enough to get the vines pumping out some sugar in a balanced and methodical fashion. When the temperatures rise above 90 degrees, the pinot noir fruit rapidly loses water and the sugars rise quickly without a development of flavor. But at 85 degrees, the vines are working at maximum photosynthetic potential and ripening both the phenols and increasing sugar. So this last two days of mid to high 80 degree temperatures has been a perfect ‘ripeness bump’ here at Clos Pepe.
From a viticultural and winemaking perspective, it has thus far been an
exceptional year in more ways than we have expected or predicted. Blame
it on climate change, El Niño, or star alignment, but many are faced with
pre-harvest weather extremes in many parts of North America from
downpours to scorching heat and high humidity causing all kinds of
challenges in the home winery.
I have already started receiving messages from distraught winemakers asking how to rescue their stuck fermentation, how to deal with mold, or what’s with the fermentation off-odors—the result of grapes starting to ferment prematurely.
If you have not harvested yet and expect heavy or prolonged rainy periods, you should consider harvesting before the rain; you can always adjust sugar and acidity in the winery. Heavy rainfall can cause berries to start splitting, to grow mildew, and possibly indigenous yeasts to kick-start the fermentation resulting in off odors and flavors and quite possibly spoilage.
If you have been hit by heavy rain and berries are splitting or spoiling, harvest and crush as quickly as possible making sure to add a good dose of sulfite based on the amount of spoilage; at a minimum, add 50 mg/L (ppm). This may cause problems if you intend on a malolactic fermentation, in which case you should consider double-salt precipitation to reduce what is likely high malic content. (I discuss double-salt precipitation techniques in the upcoming Oct-Nov issue of WineMaker.) And don’t forget to add yeast nutrients. Yeast will be struggling and yeast cells will therefore need lots of nutritional food to grow and reproduce to ferment properly.
At the other end of weather extremes, like in the northeastern US and Niagara regions where vineyards were blessed with a superb growing season—though not without its challenges of excessive heat or mold—harvest is well ahead compared to previous years. Some have begun harvesting.
Year in the Vineyard
Week #23: August 12-1, 2010
With Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines
Welcome once again to the Year in the Vineyard Blog. We continue with our new High Def video blogs, to give you as much visual input as possible. There’s times when the written word can describe what’s happening in a vineyard, but I’m a big believer in getting out in the vines when I have visitors and getting them to see, touch, smell and understand what’s going on here.
With this in mind, I would like to continue posting blogs each week from the vineyard and the winery so you can get an intimate view and understanding of my job as a vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe. This week we post part 2 of the barrel tasting: the Pinot Noir, and a ‘Walk in the Fog’—my take on how the fruit and the 2010 vintage is maturing.
The Face of Sanity
Who's that guy? Harold McGee, a personal hero of mine, and the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. His approach to cooking, with it's rigorous scientific method and open approach makes for a fascinating read, and when I got it more than a decade ago it changed the way I thought about cooking completely--and this after spending five years as a professional cook in a French brigade kitchen.
Harold had an interesting article in the NY Times last month, To Enhance Flavor, Just Add Water. In a nutshell, he talks about water as a flavour enhancer, particularly in wine. This is pretty counter-intuitive, but he raises an important point:
Aroma molecules are also more chemically similar to alcohol molecules than they are to water, so they tend to cling to alcohol, and are quicker to evaporate out of a drink when there’s less alcohol to cling to.
This means that the more alcoholic a drink is, the more it cloisters its aroma molecules, and the less aroma it releases into the air. Add water and there’s less alcohol to irritate and burn, and more aroma release.
A-Hah! If you read my infrequent blogging here you'll know I've got a bee in my bonnet about alcohol levels in wine. I prefer almost all wine at less than 13% ABV, and adore delicate little German whites at 8.5% and ethereal Pinot Noir at 12%. Harold provides a hard science explanation for my particular prejudice.
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