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Is It Done Yet? Harvest Decisions . . .

When I was growing up, whenever my mom would make a special turkey dinner, she would always insert a temperature ‘doo dad’ that would ‘pop up’ when the turkey was done (or when the turkey hit a certain temperature, I’m assuming). Therefore, it was ‘easy’ to tell when it was done . . .

Life is not so easy when it comes to determining when is the right time to pick wine grapes. There are many many factors that need to be brought into the discussion to help make the right decision:

* The chemistry of the grapes themselves (sugar, acid and pH levels)
* The physiology of the grapes (skin, seeds, stems) and the plant itself
* At what levels things were picked in previous years and if you want to try to mimic these numbers or not
* Crop loads (to determine how things might change in the coming days)
* Weather patterns for the coming days / weeks
* Availability of picking crews
* Availability of tank space

And these are just a handful of the variables that winemakers must take into account each and every harvest, and with each and every picking decision. Note also that many of these are subjective ta boot – for instance, one winemaker’s target sugar level will most likely be higher or lower than another winemaker. And that time is now upon me in a couple of ways:

* As Assistant Winemaker for Fess Parker Winery and Epiphany Cellars, our sister label, I am intimately involved in tracking the progress of our grapes during the harvest season and help plan out picking dates with the rest of our winemaking team

* As co-owner and Winemaker for tercero wines, the picking decisions fall solely upon my shoulders (with the caveat of those things that are NOT entirely in my control as outlined above).

I sampled three vineyards that tercero purchases fruit from late yesterday to look at the progress of the grapes / vines and assess when I might want to bring the fruit in. In the case of syrah from the Thompson Vineyard and Grenache from the Watch Hill Vineyard, no decision has to be made now for the grapes are very far off from being picked – a minimum of two weeks and perhaps up to 6 in the case of the Grenache.

The gewurztraminer that we purchase from another vineyard in the Los Alamos area, though, was showing signs that it was just about ready. The grapes tasted sweet, but not quite the sweetness level I am after. They had a nice floral and spicy characteristic that I look for in the variety, and the skins had already changed colors to the pink/grey hue that this variety gets. I checked weather patterns, and it appears that it will be hitting the mid-80’s over the next few days where these grapes are from. I ran chemistries and they pointed to grapes that were nearly ready . . . for me.

I therefore made the call this afternoon to pick the grapes on Friday morning. Was it the ‘right’ call? I won’t know for sure until the grapes arrive and I get them pressed and into tank . . .and then again I may still not know for many months after that . . .

Should there be a ‘pop up doo dad’ that tells us when the grapes are ready? It would make life a little easier, but it would steal the ‘romance’ and ‘art’ that goes into this very important decision making process!


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