Posted by Adam Lee
You can pick your friends, and you can pick your vineyards, but you can’t pick your friends’ vineyards.
Deciding when to pick is one of the more personal decisions that we make as winemakers. Dianna and I consider a whole list of factors when making a picking decision. First and foremost, we collect cluster samples and crush them up in a 5-gallon bucket and taste the juice. The way the juice tastes is more important than anything else. For us, the juice has to get past the point of tasting merely sweet and have some depth to the flavors. It is also vitally important that the tannins taste ripe, not green and harsh.
We then examine the condition of the fruit and see if the seeds are brown and, if we are fortunate, the stems are lignified (woody). We also look at the health of the vine—if the leaves are all falling off, the grapes are no longer really ripening, just dehydrating. We look at the weather forecast, and we measure the Brix (the sugar content), the pH (the strength of the acidity) and the TA (total or titratable acidity—the amount of acids in solution, mostly tartaric and malic) of the juice. Eventually, we also have to consider our schedule at the winery and the schedule of the vineyard manager.
Over the past 10 days, Dianna and I have visited the Santa Lucia Highlands twice and the Santa Rita Hills once, gone to the Hirsch Vineyard out on the Sonoma Coast twice, and sampled at all of our Pinot Noir vineyards and one of our Syrah vineyards in Sonoma County. Dianna will head up to Oregon on Wednesday. We even managed to take the kids and run away to a hotel for a night and spend some time in the hotel swimming pool.
Harvest for us starts today, Sept. 2, with fruit from Amber Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. We are then picking the Big Block at Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands on Friday, and then it's back to the Russian River for part of Ewald Vineyard on Friday and Parsons’ and Lewis vineyards next Monday. Those last two picks are subject to change depending on the weather and how the vineyards progress in the interim. Plus there are a couple of other sites we may picks depending on what we find when we sample during the next two days.
There are a couple of interesting sidelights to this year’s harvest. First, our Brix numbers at Amber Ridge Vineyard have been significantly higher than the numbers that two other winermakers have been getting from sections of the vineyard directly next to our sections. Normally, this would be a concern for us. However, our numbers have been consistent and have been moving consistently, over a two-week period of time. More importantly, the juice tastes really good. So, whatever sugars we end up with will be fine with us.
Second, one factor that is playing into the 2008 harvest is fruit condition. As I mentioned in my first blog post, this year's crop has a good bit of millerandage (small, seedless berries mixed in with more normal size berries). Over the past two weeks, warmer weather, lower humidity levels and drying winds have been causing a number of these tiny berries to dry up and wither away. This is not a good thing as these smaller berries have a great deal of concentrated fruit and losing them ultimately leads to a loss in potential wine quality. Thus we are irrigating vineyards when possible, but we also are making some picking decisions based on fruit condition.
These are the types of decisions you can only make by being in the vineyards and by having your own standards as to how much is too much. And it is why you can pick your own vineyards but you can’t make decisions for anyone else.