Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Week To Harvest: Ready or Not

The wineries in Blue-Merle Country are nearing harvest time. Yeast, tartaric acid, DMP, potasium metabisulfite and "super food" (a yeast nutrient) have been ordered and delivered by Steven of Vintner's vault, who drove a trailer from Paso Robles to San Diego full of supplies and equipment including bladder presses and crusher-destemmers. We are busy rinsing out the fermenters. As the Blue-Merle Vineyard will be selling our grapes today at the Farmer's Market, the princess and Bluey are out in the vineyard cutting down the purple delicacies. (As our vines are only 2 years old, they are not yet optimum for wine-making, but boy do they taste good to eat! I've heard it said that grapes are the sweetest fruit -- I concur.)

Next door, "Merlot Mike" from Escondido Sunrise Vineyard is approximately one week away from Harvest Day. Here is his latest update, in the words of MerlotMike himself:

"The weather has been perfect … the grapes are getting darker … the taste sweeter … the seeds are turning from green to mottled brown-green on their way to becoming fully brown (one of the many indicators of ripeness). We took another 100+ grape sample on and were surprised to find that the brix had climbed to 24.2 (one brix = 1% sugar in solution). I am attaching a spreadsheet that shows the changes in the sugar levels as the days march along towards harvest. Note that we are running ahead of where we have been in prior years … and our vineyard always seems to be among the first to harvest … our micro-climate evidently encourages early ripening.

"After measuring the sugar level (higher than expected) and the seeds (still has more ripening to go), I measured the acid level. You do this by titrating a sample of the grape juice. The acid level was 0.80 … which was above the desirable level at ripeness. We want to target a level between 0.60 and 0.75. As the grapes ripen and the sugar level rises, the acid level declines … approaching a point where optimum ripeness is achieved...

"[after] testing the acid and sugar levels, I was supposed to measure the pH level … but, being out of practice (I only do this each year as harvest is rolling around) I looked at the lovely glass of grape juice setting on my work bench and drank each and every last drop … so, my pH analysis will have to wait until the next specimen is taken. From the official test of “How did it taste?”, it passed with flying colors.

"I have attached photos of the vineyard showing a view yesterday morning and evening … note how the vines have been cut back (given haircuts) with the net wrapped around each of the rows. The leaves have been pulled near the grapes, giving the clusters a bit more exposure to the sun … it’s beautiful but it also means that things are beginning to move more quickly … ready or not, harvest is approaching.

"Over the next days I will continue to take measurements ….Ultimately, we will have one or two larger harvests and one or two small harvests … targeting different brix levels for the different grapes or types of wines we hope to produce. With the vineyard being netted, we are able to hold the grapes for both making a “big red wine” as well as for making “port” … and, since our zinfandel ripens at a different speed than the Merlot, we’ll always expect to have a small, late harvest when we pull our zinfandel.

" … we will be looking for pickers in the not too distant future. As we are able to target a specific date...for now, let’s just let the vineyard be fruitful … and have a toast to a bountiful harvest with many, many good bottles of wine to follow."

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