Harvest Update from Winemaker, Nate Weis - August 31, 2015

Final update

The weather last week started out mild. However last, Wednesday and Thursday got up into the 90s in most of the North Coast and Friday afternoon, and it pushed into the high 90s in Oakville. A bit of precipitation may materialize this weekend, but a barely measurable amount fell which was not concerning. In fact, we often notice an increase in ripening after these sorts of events, the theory being that a small amount of rain rinses dust off the leaves and allows more efficient photosynthesis. The long-term forecasts call for more of the same and even those meteorologists who dare provide 30-day forecasts have clear skies through mid-September, for what that’s worth. Keep in mind these are the same forecasts that predicted Friday would only reach the mid-80s (whoops!).

Last week was exciting with Jean-Claude and Jeff Berrouet here with us. None of the Soda Canyon Merlot was quite ready for harvest but we had some wonderfully informative time with the two of them, visiting vineyards, and tasting the fermenting tanks. It is a real pleasure to work with such a wealth of knowledge and often the most productive input we receive is something Jean-Claude may say in passing that sparks lively discussion and results in a new approach. We look forward to having them back after the New Year.

While Brix is used as a proxy for % sugar, it’s actually just a density measurement, not a precise measurement of sugar. We use it because it’s a decent approximation and one that can be done quickly and easily. Why is this important? Another part of our precision farming technique is an attempt to separate the physiological status of the plant from a simple Brix measurement. With some fancy math and careful measurement in our labs, we can determine how much sugar the plant has actually “unloaded” into the berry.

Vitis vinifera (the grape species used for making wine) unfortunately doesn’t care about wine or wine quality. Like all plant and animal species, it has evolved to be very good at one important thing: survival (in this case, dispersing its seeds). Berries turn color and becomes sweet to attract animal life to the fruit. What we have found is that once the plant stops making the fruit sweet, it starts to focus on preparing the berry for its travel through the intestinal system of the animal and hopefully for the seed to germinate and grow in some new location. In winemaking terms, this is the key period. We’ve found that after the plant stops pushing sugar towards the berry, there’s a period of time in which flavor and tannin in the skin and seed (although we place little emphasis on the seeds, quite honestly) mature and become ideal for winemaking. That’s our harvest window, when the berry physiologically matures but before it starts to dehydrate and flavors move towards the over-ripe. So, in short, Brix goes up, Brix goes down, we ride the wave but don’t get too concerned.

At our Oakville Winery, we crushed fruit from a partner vineyard in the hills east of Rutherford. We picked more cabernet yesterday morning as well, and there are a number of other Napa vineyards on our radar in the southern part of the valley.

Our Geyserville Winery did not receive any Alexander Valley Cabernet last week. Performing berry sensory revealed that the vineyards we’ve been watching closely just weren’t quite ready. This week seems likely to see our first harvest there.

Those of you who interact with members of the Production Team probably notice a malady that develops this time of year. We may forget to return an email, beg out of a scheduled meeting (sorry!), or do something as simple as forget to eat lunch. This is known as “harvest brain” and shows up when we all try to keep a lot of balls in the air in a rapidly changing environment. As harvest brain sets in, I like to think about what Pete Rose said when a reporter asked him about his secret to being a career .303 hitter, likely expecting some deep philosophical approach to working the count or taking the ball the other way. Pete’s response:

“See the ball. Hit the ball”

Translation: keep things simple and your eye on the ball. See grapes, pick grapes, crush grapes, ferment grapes.

-Nate Weis

August 31, 2015