Archive for October, 2008
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Just heard from our second grower with an update: sugars are starting to eek into the right range (22.5 – 23.5), but the acids are still high enough that the whole package is simply out of balance. So it’s only time to pick if we have no other alternative, but for now, it looks like we do — no major storms appear to be coming, and no severe frosts are predicted. The grower’s still leery of frost, but feels confident the grapes will make it to next weekend.
By that time, the fruit will have hung another week, cinching up those sugars (though not too much, since it’ll be relatively cool), and bringing acids down to levels we can deal with. With luck, that may actually get us ideal fruit: sugars in the 24-25 range focused by just the right amount of acidity, and true physiological ripeness. We got syrah pretty much at the peak; let’s hope we can make it 3 out of 4.
I got word from our other grower that this weekend the fruit’s coming off his vineyard, ready or not. It’s been a difficult year for him, as it has for a lot of growers in the region: late fruit set in the spring means late ripening in the fall, and this grower is feeling that especially.
I’m still waiting for numbers from him, but I’ll be heading east on Saturday or Sunday to pick up Cabernet Sauvignon and our treasured Cabernet Franc. Late though it may be, I’m hoping we get the same luck we got with Westrey’s Oracle Pinot this year – not jammy ripe, but physiologically ripe, that special interlocking sensation when everything’s in balance and the fruit lasts and lasts on your tongue. Some of that’s due to extra hang time during cool fall nights, which keeps the acid intact even as ripeness progresses during the day. We’ll know soon enough!
In other news, the syrah is mighty happy to see us. So happy, in fact, that it’s overflowing its fermenter. In the interest of retaining thermal mass (the same principle as huddling together for warmth, I’d guess), I decided to divide one of the extra 30-gallon fermenters of syrah between another 30-gallon and the stainless steel tank. Was it close to the top? Oh, sure, a little, but what could go wrong? Now I know.
Yesterday morning there were the faintest signs of life: the odd bubble here and there, the islands of grape skins slightly more pronounced than before (or were they?). Now the stuff’s going full throttle, right up to the rim of the fermenter.
The syrah came in with pretty nice numbers, spot-on sugars and pretty good pH. I’ve already added a dash of acid to bring that pH down into more comfortable territory, but all the building blocks are already there: the fruit tasted at perfect ripeness out in the field — maybe the most spot-on I’ve ever tasted in our winemaking — and it hasn’t changed in the winery, either. This looks to be a stellar syrah year if we don’t screw it up.
For fun, to increase flavor for what remained, and to sneak a little more space into the fermenter, I also bled out 10 gallons of syrah juice 24 hours after crush — a technique which also the traditional way to make rosÃ©. I see now I should have done it maybe 3-4 hours afterwards, however, since the color is more garnet than rose, but if we can ride its fermentation to the ground without crashing, that should also make it a mighty flavorful summer quaffer. It’s currently a little stinky (something David and Amy of Westrey warned me about), but I’ll hit it with some nutrient and if that doesn’t improve matters, a little copper should have it seeing things our way.
But man, you should smell it: there’s a rich, deep sweetness to the must (since it’s only just begun to convert sugar to alcohol), laced with smokiness and a whiff of leather. Can’t wait to see it at press in a week or so.
Lett earned the nickname ‘Papa Pinot’ for introducing Pinot Noir to Oregon, for introducing Pinot Gris to the United States and, some say, for his resemblance to ‘Papa’ Ernest Hemingway, whom he resembled not just physically but also in his tough, terse, no-nonsense style.
One more chance to make the perfect wine
[ Since we’re in a harvest mood, I thought I’d reprint this article I originally wrote for Imbibe Magazine in 2006. It’s a decent introduction to all the decisions winemakers need to make leading up to harvest. Whether we’ll make the same ones — or as well — remains to be seen, of course… ]
Maybe today is the day.
It’s mid-morning in Oregon, late in September, and winemaker John Paul is winding his beat-up van down a familiar dirt road through hillside vineyards, wondering how the grapes will taste today. At the edge of autumn, the sun still low in the sky, the leaves on the vines are a blaze of vermillion and gold. Outside the window, the air feels warm and clean on his hand, but there’s a brittle edge to it that only confirms the seasons are changing and harvest is near.
Like an expectant parent, Paul been feeling these and other faint contractions for weeks as the grapes arc toward ripeness. He knows the labor of crush could start any day.
Maybe today is that day. The day crush begins.
Read the rest of the article: Read more
This morning, somewhere deep in the darkness of the Merlot, the effervescent joy that is fermentation officially began. It was easy to miss, but when my wife peeked under the fermenter cover, she noticed that most of the liquid formerly pooling around the skins had disappeared (fermentation pushes the grape skins, or “cap” to the surface). And sure enough, there were a few tell-tale pops of CO2 when we got closer.
As the nature writer David Rains Wallace said, “fermentation may have been a greater discovery than fire.” Indeed, over the next few weeks, Bacchus will take Prometheus to school. Ladies and gentlemen, here we go!
In ancient times, before history like even started, a totally ancient race of dudes used dry ice to delay fermentation and increase the exposure of skins to juice. This is, like, their story?