ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

All things being equal, what would be the ideal weather conditions for a season to produce a fantastic wine for Cabernet and Pinot Noir?

—Ed C., Bay Area, Calif.

Dear Ed,

I think all grapes—no matter the variety—do best under certain circumstances. For starters, in the spring, when the grapevines are flowering and the berries are being set, it’s important to avoid any rain, hail or frost that might damage the flowers or berries. It’s also important to avoid extreme cold, wet weather and subsequent mold or mildew.

During the growing season, as the grapes are maturing, ideal weather conditions are the opposite of extreme. (Highly moderate?) You want warm days, but also cool nights. No blistering hot spells, and no cold, damp weather, either. There should plenty of sun to get the grapes ripe, but not so much that raisining becomes a concern. Moisture and humidity can be a concern under certain conditions, again because of mold.

When it gets closer to harvest, most grapegrowing areas have to worry about getting their grapes picked before the cold and precipitation of late autumn and winter begin to kick in. Warm (not hot) and dry are ideal harvest conditions.

The differences between grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir will come in much more subtle differences in how evenly the bunches grow, how clustered they are (more tightly clustered means more concern for mold), how thick or thin the skins are (thin skins are obviously more delicate), and if they are early or late ripening. In general, Cabernet grapes are more thick-skinned and late-ripening, meaning that as the season gets longer, they are often one of the last grapes on the vine to get picked, tempting the fate of cold, damp weather. Pinot Noirs are more thin-skinned, which gives them more susceptibility to rot and sunburn.

—Dr. Vinny


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