Looking out the window this morning at our rather soggy vineyard, we’re so grateful that our harvest is over and the grapes are safely in the barn, so to speak.
The fruit is so amazingly clean this year - with very few raisins, no sunburn, no mold and uniformly brown (mature) seeds - that we can do a nice, long cold soak. This technique is a favorite among the tricks in our bag that helps us get a jump start on the extraction of color, flavor and the right kinds of tannins – the supple ones from the grape skins.
You can think of the cold soak as sun tea vs. tea made with hot water. You get the full flavor without the bitter tannins. For us, different phenolic compounds (tannin is a polyphenol) are extracted from the skins and seeds at different temperatures and different alcoholic concentrations.
So, as the grapes were destemmed, we blanketed them with dry ice (the solid form of carbon dioxide) to get them cooled down to below 50 degrees. This creates a very inhospitable environment for yeast and delays the onset of fermentation (it also protects the fresh juice from oxidation.) And, the low temperature and lack of alcohol in the solution allows us to get a lovely extraction of everything we want - color, flavor and texture - and virtually nothing we don’t want.
So, we're off to a great start and just loving the 2012 vintage! It seems to be one of those rare years when we can have it all! Next up, we’ll take a walk on the wild side and talk a little about yeast, wild yeast and mixed cultures. Cheers!
Just look at that big smile on my face! A happy winemaker, indeed, with a bumper crop of beautiful fruit! Vintage of the decade? Century? Who knows?
As I said in the last post, the whole season has been stress free for the grapes - and for us - weeks and months of temperate, dry conditions so it’s an amazingly clean harvest with almost no raisining.
These pictures are from Monday, actually, the day we harvested. We started at 5:30 in the morning, picking by the light of headlamps and the tractor. It was a chilly 46 degrees in the vineyard, a sure sign that the season is coming to an end. But, cold grapes got us off to a good start. They traveled from the vineyard to the sorting table without juicing and are just right for beginning a good “cold soak.”
We carefully sorted the grapes before they were de-stemmed and crushed. I should add that saying we crushed the grapes sounds like we're smashing and mashing them, which is the last thing we want. The stemmer-crusher gently breaks the skins open to release the juice.
The term "cold soak" is literal. It means we simply delay the onset of fermentation by keeping the fruit cool (yeast likes warm temperatures), so Mother Nature has played right into our hands.
We’re greedy winemakers – we want to coax out as much color, flavor and texture from the skins as we can without picking up too much tannin along the way. The cold soak is the best trick in our bag to extract those goodies and the supple tannins from the skins up front, before there's any alcohol in the solution, without pulling out bitter seed tannins (alcohol is a solvent).
We can be extra greedy this year and allow for a good, long cold soak without fear of molding or off flavors because the fruit is so clean!
So, that’s where it stands at this point. 2012 has been so generous to us that I’ve realized I need to order another barrel, which is very happy news.
I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to reach the end of the growing season and know that all our work has been rewarded AND that there is nothing more to worry about until pruning time and the advent of the 2013 vintage!
This was also the perfect way to celebrate Bill’s birthday and, after sharing a few glasses of wine and some cheese when day was done, needless to say, we slept very well!
Just look at these beauties! We’re on the count down – about a week away from harvest, maybe less. The sugars are at about 23.5 Brix (23.5%) and you should see the smile on my face!
This is one of those years when winemaking is really FUN! After the stress and low crop yields of the last couple of vintages Mother Nature is treating us to what feels like a magical growing season.
Such a season is made up of warm, sunny days and cool, foggy nights and months without rainfall. In fact, when it comes to the weather, there really hasn’t been anything to talk about other than to say how even tempered and great it is! So, it means we sailed through the spring frost season, May flowering and August veraison (the color change) and, now, maturation with nary a blip – a stress-free year for the vines.
They’ve rewarded us with an ample crop, which is a nice change! We thinned quite a bit to help the clusters to ripen evenly and to avoid crowding. Now we’re just waiting for absolute peak flavors and just a little more sugar.
Everything you read about growing conditions in Napa Valley, this year, describes them as “normal” and crop yields as “average” and I guess that’s right. It’s just that we appreciate this blissfully boring weather all the more after coming through the challenges of last few seasons.
These are the classic conditions that have made Napa Valley famous and Bill and I can hardly wait to get these grapes into the winery and make the most of what looks like a great vintage! Cheers!
The vines have justa about finished blooming! See those white, thread-like starbursts? Believe it or not, those tiny protrusions hold a great deal of promise for the 2012 vintage. Those fragile little guys are grape flowers! Pretty showy, huh? NOT! You have to get up very close to see or smell them. From a distance they just look kind of fuzzy.
The flowers don’t need to be glamorous because they’re hermaphroditic – how’s that for a college word? It means they don’t need to attract bees or other insects because those tiny little threads contain the pollen-bearing stamen and the ovaries. How convenient! All we have to worry about is the weather. Everything else is taken care of as long as the weather’s good.
I’m very happy to say that the weather during bloom has been just about perfect this year. It's a little cool and weepy today, but we'll hope it doesn't make any difference. Bloom has been short, which bodes well for uniformity of ripening. We like that!
We’ve made preliminary cluster counts and it looks very strong. Excess is a wonderful thing at this time of year because it gives us lots to choose from when we come back to to thin.
This is something to celebrate because the last few years our crop has been thinned at bloom by ill-timed rain. Rain or hail can impair pollination – you would see gaps in the clusters where the grapes should have formed - we call it “shatter.” And, cool temperatures stretch out the flowering which can create a lack of uniformity from cluster to cluster and within the clusters.
Regarding uniformity, there’s one thing that got our attention. Notice the little green buds hanging down from the cluster? They’re solid green because they haven’t opened up to flower yet. That’s likely to put them behind in maturity, so we’ll be taking a good look at them when we come back with our pruning shears.
We took this photo a few days ago, so by the time you read this, fruit set – the formation of grape clusters – should be nearly complete. Now we can get out these to see what we've actually got!
Surprisingly, bloom is 12 days earlier than last year, which means it’s actually pretty much on time! All of this is very good news and we’ll hope Mother Nature’s good mood continues through the rest of the growing season.
You can see that things are really taken off in the vineyard! The weather’s been lovely and the vines are showing their appreciation.
As the shoots have lengthened, we’ve started tucking them into the trellis system - it's called “vertical shoot positioning.” The purpose is to get lots of sunlight to the leaf surface, to heighten fruity flavors, and filtered light to the clusters.
Regarding that second goal, the filtered sunlight, we’ve made an improvement in our trellising system. Notice the cross arms on the grape stake? Those are new!
Up to now, we have trained the shoots straight up at a 90-degree angle to the ground. That was good.
But, in the last few vintages, we’ve experienced some sun damage due to extreme heat. The clusters, which hang below the leaf canopy, were almost completely exposed.
Our answer to weather extremes is to be less extreme in our shoot positioning. The shoots are still being trained vertically, but as they grow longer and longer, and we tuck them into the wires on those cross bars, they’ll be positioned in a more relaxed, natural way and the shoots will be able to provide some protection to the clusters, below (once they show up – after flowering). Nice, dappled light is our goal. Those crossbars also do a great job of supporting the canopy. Don’t you think it looks a little more graceful, too?
The vines should begin flowering any minute, now, and the weather predictions are favorable. If these predictions hold true, this will be the first vintage of trouble-free flowering since 2009.
As the shoots get longer and longer we’ll tip them to make sure the canopy is balanced with the crop. Let’s just hope this terrific weather holds!
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