One of the most difficult things a winemaker has to decide is when to pick fruit. It’s not just a matter of testing sugars and pH. Do you pick early, hoping to make a more elegant, structured, long-lived wine? Do you pick later, hoping to create a bigger, bolder, fruit-forward wine? Do you pick because it’s the only day you can get a truck? Do you pick because Tuesday is your lucky day? Or do you pick when the fruit is physiologically ripe for the growing region and let the chips fall where they may?
At Loring Wine Company, we use a tried and true method--we wait to see what Adam and Dianna Lee from Siduri do. What that's taught us, through shameless copycatting on our part, is to wait for the flavors to develop independent of “the numbers.” To try to get fruit physiologically ripe within the context of each vineyard, or even portion of a vineyard.
While we do worry about too much acid, we rarely worry about sugar numbers. Even if the numbers would traditional say "pick," if the flavors aren't there, or the seeds are still green, we wait. We can always add water to lower the sugar level (and resulting alcohol level) or add acid. We can’t change the flavor profile of underripe grapes. (More on adding water and acid in a later blog).
So why wait to pick when other people pick at 24.5 Brix and 3.3 pH and add no water or acid? Isn’t wine made in the vineyard? The answer to that question is yes … and no. In order to investigate this issue, we have to ask what is "ripe"?
I think you need to start by asking, "Why do vines produce fruit?" Without knowing that, figuring out what ripe means from a vine perspective would be impossible. The fact is that vines don’t care about wine. They don’t produce grapes so that we can have a tasty beverage to pair with dinner. Grapes are nothing more than a seed-dispersal vehicle that a vine uses to propagate itself. Maybe that’s where we get the concept of the romance of wine.
To assign some arbitrary sugar level that makes a 12.5 percent alcohol wine as being ripe is to attribute a desire to the vines that they couldn’t care less about. And once you assimilate that into your world view, you can start to really investigate what constitutes ripe fruit in each specific growing region.
The next thing to ponder is where did we get the idea that 24.5 Brix and 3.3 pH are the perfect numbers? How did that 12.5 percent alcohol standard get set? Of course, it’s because those are the numbers that correspond to what is ripe in many regions of the "Old World." But does that necessarily apply to newer growing regions? Should there be a universal standard?
I think that any hard, fast, rigid rules about what constitutes ripe fruit for winemaking would be impossible. The vines don’t care. People have placed artificial rules and ideas on winemaking based on regional limits and personal preferences. Even the idea of physiological ripeness is just guesswork on our part.
So what is ripe? In my opinion, it’s whatever a winemaker decides. What you, the consumer, need to decide is which winemaker you agree with.
Charles J Stanton — Eugene, OR — October 7, 2006 12:47am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — October 8, 2006 11:34am ET
Richard Hirth — Michigan — October 8, 2006 12:17pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 2:21pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 2:26pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 2:27pm ET
Charles J Stanton — Eugene, OR — October 8, 2006 4:57pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 10:24pm ET
Doug Wilson — October 9, 2006 7:23pm ET
Wes Hagen — Lompoc, CA — October 10, 2006 9:11am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 10, 2006 12:23pm ET
Rob Winn — Huntington Beach, CA — October 17, 2006 1:30pm ET
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