Monday, August 25, 2008

Harvesting This Sunday: Calling All Strong Men & Nubile Maidens

"Merlot" Mike's poetry waxes elegant as harvest is only 5 days away! Enjoy his update -- I'm going out to the vineyard as the sun sets to pick some grapes to make Bluey's Tempranillo jam.

Mike, owner of Escondido Sunrise Vineyard and a founding member of the Hidden Meadows Winemakers Association, writes today:

"Greetings From The Vineyard: .... I went up and down the rows, collecting samples from each of the three sections … bringing the grapes back to my rudimentary little lab … squeezing each grape in the plastic baggy for that particular section … and then analyzing the juice. Again, I picked close to 100 grapes, a large enough sample that it should be giving reasonably accurate results. As shown on the updated table attached, the sugar level only rose by 0.5% over the course of an entire week … as opposed to a 1.4% increase during the preceding week.

"So, the sugar is at 24.7 (average between all three sections) and the acid is dropping (a “good” thing) … the acid was 0.69 per my analysis on Saturday morning. In an “ideal” world, the grape acid level will be between 0.60 and 0.75 at harvest … but, if it should be a bit lower, we are prepared to supplement the natural acid with a blend of acids to adjust the acid level up to a desired level prior to starting fermentation. The pH was 3.37.

"There are a number of ways to evaluate how ripe the grapes are … the three numbers above are used as part of the analysis … each tells us something different … and there are a number of ratios that we calculate with these three factors that also tend to indicate the degree of ripeness. That said, there are other less scientific ways of evaluating the ripeness … with two of the simplest methods involving tasting and evaluating the color of the seeds. So, I tasted … I spat … I rolled the poor little seeds around in my hand … enjoying the sweetness of the juice … noting that the seeds, that were mostly green with some brown 10 days ago, are now mostly brown with some green. Ideally, we will have brown little seeds with almost no green when we harvest.

"All this being said … “why do we care?” is a logical question … especially when most growers would already be picking. We care because the longer we can allow the grapes to hang, up until the point that they have simply turned to raisins, phenolics continue to develop. Phenolics give the wine much of it’s character … allow it to develop “characteristics” … there really is a difference between “Two Buck Chuck” and the wine that a good winemaker can make if he has quality grapes to work with … and since we work all year to get to the day that the grapes are “ripe”, we want to wait until the grapes are as close to perfect as we can possibly get them to be … before we pluck their sweet little carcasses off the stems that have nourished them for their short existence, thrusting them into the Italian crusher that breaks open their little bodies without crushing their tiny seeds, allowing the sweetness held within to burst forth mixing with the grape skins, extracting color from the skins, tannin from the seeds and skin, and looking up at us with eager expectation of the fermentation that will start shortly converting that special sweetness into a ruby red elixir with an ability to turn old men into youthful lovers and tarnished damsels into objects of intense desire. So, now you know why we care. Would you want anything less?

"All this having been said, to try to achieve this peak of perfection, this ripe rapture, this juicy jammy state of grape nirvana … we cut off the water well before the expected harvest date so that the grapes begin to shrivel a bit as the water evaporates, pulling up the concentration of sugars … from the winemaker’s perspective, this is wonderful … from the farmer’s standpoint, since you charge by the pound for grapes and shriveled, concentrated grapes weigh less than plump (filled to the brim with as much water as the grapes can retain) grapes, the farmer would rather harvest plump grapes with lower sugar levels (before the birds swoop in and devour the harvest) … and, having cut off the water I looked with amazement as water fell from the sky this morning, giving drinks that I hadn’t intended to the vineyard. With the potential for more rain in the forecast … but at some point, you have to point to the calendar and give it a good guess … so, we’ve done that and targeted a date. WE HOPE TO PICK THIS COMING SUNDAY MORNING, AUGUST 31ST, FOR THE FIRST HARVEST OF THIS SEASON … subject to another reading of the sugar, acid and pH levels and the cooperation of the weather … more rain most probably equals a week delay in harvest … dry, heat most probably equals harvesting this Sunday.

"Most of you probably know the routine … we congregate in the picnic area near the vineyard between 7:00 and 7:20 AM, start the day with a champagne toast, grab our clippers and a five gallon bucket and venture forth into the vineyard to free the grapes from the vines while the air is still cool (hopefully). The buckets are poured into larger containers scattered about the vineyard … some paid helpers lug the larger containers to the end of the row where a vehicle retrieves them and takes them up to the crush pad (that doubles the other 364 days of the year as the covered walkway in front of the pub) where each container is weighed so that a count is kept to insure that we pick enough but not too much (hoping for other winemakers to yet descend on the vineyard in search of the perfect grape). It’s fun, dusty, has the potential for sweat to break out on more than your forehead, and a time for talking and enjoying a beautiful (thunderstorms can be quite lovely) morning … waiting for the call of “That’s enough grapes for today” to signal one and all that it is time to return to the picnic area for libations and lunch (we always make a couple crockpots of “stuff” … generally large hunks of beef with rolls and potato salad … some folks bring something to share … some winemakers bring samples of their wines for others to try … we always have an assortment of our wines out for the adventurous … and, although I may not get “authorization” for it, I was thinking that a crockpot of chili sounded pretty good too.) We have 20+ spare pair of clippers … if you have some, please bring them with you.

"I will take another reading to be sure that the weather change isn’t impacting things too much and follow up with a more detailed email evaluating the degree of ripeness and instructions to come to the vineyard."

Please contact us if you need directions to the vineyard. Cheers!


Craig Justice said...

Will the nubile maidens be “stomping grapes” with their bare feet this year?

Merlot Mike said...

No Craig … fine merlot can only be crushed between the supple breasts of nubile maidens … other wines are “okay” with bare feet, but not “fine merlot”.


Craig Justice said...

Great job, Nancy & Mike! Once again, the brisket was to die for, and the weather couldn't be beat. And, I hear that for two years in a row there were no finger tips in the stew. What a turn out -- there must have been close to 50 people there. The wine labeled "Love Potion # 9" was delicious (and I supposed effective -- there was at least one marriage proposal at the harvest). Since things are under control, Bluey and I are headed back to the ranch to cut down some dead trees before the next fire storm hits. Congratulations, and here's to a great 2008 vintage!