default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
Logout|My Dashboard

The Most Important Decision

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010 4:56 pm | Updated: 5:17 pm, Mon Sep 13, 2010.

One of the biggest consumers of my time during crush is sampling winegrapes. A couple of times a week I jump in my Passat - rather than the standard winemaker-issue white pickup truck - and make the rounds of all our vineyard sources, from west Lodi, to Clements Hills, on up past the Sacramento County line.

Though many winemakers prefer to fill a 5 gallon bucket with whole bunches of grapes, I like to walk along the row or two we'll be harvesting, randomly grabbing two grapes every few steps. One grape goes in a Ziplock baggie, the other into my mouth. Once I've got a hundred in the bag, I squish 'em and I'm done.

I try to get a feel for how the flavors of the grapes differ from one side of the vineyard to the other. In my mind I can taste the perfectly ripened grape as having a certain richness and complexity of flavors. If the grape tastes like boring, tart water, it's not close to being ready.

Though I tend to look for that certain typical Lodi jammy deliciousness, if all I get is raisin, I've failed. You could pay $15,000 for a ton of Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or $700 for Lodi Zin, but if the grapes have raisined, both wines will taste like the same alcoholic raisin juice.

Some other factors I consider are the acidity (pH) of the juice from the squished grapes as well as the sugar level (Brix). Browning of the seeds is also important as an indicator of ripeness and a predictor that the tannins won't be as harsh.

All this work is to make the absolute best decision as to which day to pick those grapes, because once they are cut off the vine, whatever flavors are present will be locked in. (Grapes don't continue to ripen as peaches do.)

In cool seasons like we're experiencing this year, the margin for error is forgivingly large. During warmer seasons even one day can make an obvious difference to how the wine will turn out. So figuring out which day to pick is probably the most important decision a winemaker will make.

Last Friday, 9/10, I followed Borra's winemaker Markus Niggli as he was getting a feel for ripeness in Gewürztraminer he'll be taking from Mokelumne Glen's river-side vines in Victor. Our conclusion was that the grapes just needed a bit more flavor, but were looking good.

You can catch the action at BorraVineyards.com.

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Use your real name. You must register with your full first and last name before you can comment. (And don’t pretend you’re someone else.)
  • 2 Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually oriented language.
  • 3 Don’t threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
  • 4 Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Don't post unsubstantiated allegations, rumors or gossip that could harm the reputation of a person, company or organization.
  • 5 Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 6 Stay on topic. Make sure your comments are about the story. Don’t insult each other.
  • 7 Tell us if the discussion is getting out of hand. Use the ‘Report’ link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 8 Share what you know, and ask about what you don't.
  • 9 Don’t be a troll.
  • 10 Don’t reveal personal information about other commenters. You may reveal your own personal information, but we advise you not to do so.
  • 11 We reserve the right, at our discretion, to monitor, delete or choose not to post any comment. This may include removing or monitoring posts that we believe violate the spirit or letter of these rules, or that we otherwise determine at our discretion needs to be monitored, not posted, or deleted.

Welcome to the discussion.

Popular Stories



Mailing List

Subscribe to a mailing list to have daily news sent directly to your inbox.

  • Breaking News

    Would you like to receive breaking news alerts? Sign up now!

  • News Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily news headlines? Sign up now!

  • Sports Updates

    Would you like to receive our daily sports headlines? Sign up now!

Manage Your Lists