Since it is almost harvest time, it seems like a great time to discuss what goes into our harvesting decisions for these wines. While the cellar crew is busy getting the winery ready for new grapes (and installing our new grape de-stemmer and crusher!) the winemakers are starting to visit each vineyard, taste the fruit, test ripeness levels and look at the general condition of each vineyard. All of our vineyard sources are unique and each one needs certain attention and focus. Here are some of the things we look for when harvesting the Pinot Noir, Viognier and Syrah!
The Santa Cruz Mountain “Red Label” Pinot Noir is a blend of our Estate Vineyard and Remde Family’s Veranda Vineyard. Both vineyards are perched in the hills overlooking Watsonville and the Monterey Bay. Pinot Noir is one of the earliest grape varieties to ripen in the Santa Cruz Mountains and with the warm weather we have experienced this spring and summer we expect it to ripen even earlier this year. This means that the grapes are currently finished with veraison (when the color goes from green to red for grapes used to make red wines) and are starting to accumulate sugar and other compounds. We measure the sugar level in grapes in degrees Brix. Brix is a unit of measurement used to describe the amount of soluble solids in an aqueous solution. When we berry sample these two Pinot Noir vineyards before harvest, we take a representative sample from the vineyard and crush the grapes to extract juice, then we test for the level of Brix, or sugar, in that juice. We can get an idea of our final alcohol level from taking these sugar readings. This is not the only thing we are looking for but I’ll discuss the other parameters next!
Another local favorite is the Viognier from the beautiful Basor Vineyard. Owners and growers, Jelka and John Basor take special care of the Viognier grapes for us. Their vineyard is lower than 400 feet in elevation so it is categorized as Santa Cruz County and therefore not considered part of the Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area (AVA). Located behind the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds, this vineyard receives plenty of fog and sun during the growing season. This month the Basor Family is netting the Viognier vines to keep the birds away from the ripening berries. When the Brix level rises the hungry birds descend! When looking at when to pick this vineyard we check the Brix level but also pay close attention to the acidity. As sugar accumulates in the berry, the acidity goes down. We like to strike a refreshing balance between these two important flavor components and pick when the fruit is ripe with sugar while retaining a nice level of acidity. For this we test the pH and the titratable acidity (TA) of the juice samples. Most wine grapes are harvested between 3.0 and 4.0 pH. For our white wines we are looking for lower pH levels to keep the wines tasting fresh and crisp.
At an elevation of about 1700 feet, the Nelson Vineyards Syrah enjoys cool fog in the morning and evening, but warmer daytime temperatures and more sunlight at this higher elevation allow great conditions for this varietal to grow. Syrah in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be very peppery and austere because of our cooler climate, therefore we look at the Brix and acidity as well as the flavors of the berries and the phenolic ripeness. Phenolic ripeness refers to the development of color compounds and tannins in the grape. With Syrah we really want to get maximum color and flavor extraction from the developed skins, stems and seeds. These parts of the grape cluster bring the rich color and structured tannins to the finished wine. In 2016, we plan to watch this maturity closely and also pick at lower Brix to keep our alcohol down as well as keeping the acidity bright and balanced.
Finally, we also look at the general health of the vineyard during harvest. Sometimes the heat can cause grapes to dry out and raisin, or excessive moisture will cause mildew and mold to grow, or sun exposure can cause burns on the berries (this list goes on and on!). We spend a lot of time testing the Brix, pH, TA and phenolic ripeness but the general health of the vineyard is very important. This year we are hopeful that the fog will cover the grapes in the morning and the sun will come out each afternoon! Thankfully the crop load looks much heavier than 2015 due to better fruit set conditions during spring. We are also paying attention to the Soberanes fire in Big Sur. We have grapes in Monterey County that could be impacted by the smoke from this tragic fire. As farmers we really don’t know what each vintage will bring, but it’s our jobs to make the best wine from what the earth gives us. And we are lucky that these local Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards mentioned above, always give us great grapes to work with year after year! Here’s to the next vintage, please enjoy these Wine Club wines while you wait with us for harvest 2016 to begin! Cheers!
Posted September 2016