Martha McClellan Levy talked yesterday about the loose clusters and small berries in the Levy & McClellan vineyard in Napa Valley. Then she showed one of the challenges facing winegrowers this year: uneven ripening and how some clusters still have green, immature or underripe berries among riper ones, and those need to be removed.
Last week, Seven Stones’ Aaron Pott shared his two-headed thinning fork, which is used to remove both green berries and raisins.
In the past two weeks I’ve toured nearly two dozen vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and indeed the range of maturity and level of ripening is all over the board.
Winemakers prefer the grapes to ripen evenly and at the same time. Veraison, which is when the dark berries begin to color, has been unusual this year, far more drawn out than winemakers would like.
And in many of the vineyards, the grape clusters show that unevenness, along with the green berries that won’t gain enough sugar or flavor to be used. So they’re removed, either in the vineyard or at the sorting table once they’ve been picked.
The weather extremes have made 2008 challenging before a single cluster has been picked. A hard spring frost cut yields sharply in many vineyards, with reports of some growers losing 10 to 40 percent of their crops. The clusters that survived are often in the mixed-development stage.
As Bob Levy explained yesterday when we walked through the vineyard west of Calistoga, the weather has been both above and below the ideal temperature ranges. Veraison “has been very slow and uneven,” he said. “How does that transfer to flavor? We’re not sure.”
This is a year when the closer the winemaker is to the vineyard the better chances of success, said Celia Welch Masyczek. By that she means as well that wineries that aren’t as picky about what grapes get harvested could end up with a wide range of quality, sugar levels and flavor.
Sauvignon Blanc in some Napa vineyards hit 20 degrees Brix this week, which means harvest for that variety is right around the corner.
John Wilen — Texas — August 13, 2008 3:58pm ET
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