The thing about winemaking — which is about 90% grape farming — is that you have to be on your toes and on top of everything constantly. Even after two harvests, we made the classic novice mistake of thinking we could schedule things by the calendar instead of by Mother Nature’s timeline. Granted, it’s been a weird year — an incredibly cold, wet Spring that lasted well into June. Then in September, a series of several weeks of over 100 degree days. So we thought we could plot when the grapes would ripen and got lax about testing the BRIX level. (Roughly, Brix is the measure of the sugar content of an acqueous solution. And with grapes, the more sugar, the more alcohol you eventually get.) The Napa/Sonoma standard is to harvest at 25 Brix. The French typically harvest at 23 or 24 Brix. The former results in a 14% alcohol wine, the latter a wine that is more around the 12% or 13% alcohol. The great debate is: when does the alcohol overwhelm the fruit? The big bold Cabernets of California can often get harvested at 27 or 28 Brix. Some very influential palates, such as Robert Parker’s, are big fans of the results.
However, we wanted to strive for something closer to the Rhone wines, which are lower in alcohol. Not this year, apparently. We took our eyes off the ball for about a week — a week when the average temperature was over 100 degrees — and the Brix level went shooting up past the 23 at which we’d planned to pick.
So tomorrow, we pick the Grenache — which is reading at 28 BRIX, a reading I can’t believe is right. The Cinsault is right at 25. Our Mourvedre is 23. We’re hoping that holds steady with our predicted cooler temperatures.
Much of tomorrow’s Grenache will be chilled with a glycol chiller, fermented with a white wine yeast and used for Rosé — which we had a great success with last year. Of course, last year’s Rosé was a blend, which we created as a field blend. This year, we’ll ferment the Grenache and Mourvedre separately and then mix them together which is a more traditional method. If the Grenache is indeed through the roof in Brix, the Mourvedre may bring it down. If not, looks like we’ll be making Thunderbird and we’ll have to remarket to winos on Skid Rows around the nation.
In the meantime, there is one bright spot. We’ve discovered we have the world’s only grape harvesting terrier. As I was combing the rows pulling off “berries” to test for Brix, Oscar was picking up the discarded bunches that our crews had pruned from the vines last week.
Don’t worry about the alcohol content. Perhaps you could make something that us “common” folk would enjoy like the local label “White Trash White” or “Redneck Red”.
How about just rehydrating those grapes a wee bit? After all, nature took away some of the water, so you are just correcting the balance.
(In some places this is called adding Jesus units – turning water into wine!)
Farming like wine making is not for the faint of heart. Two Terriers Vineyard ventures forth. Of course we know you enjoy the science part of it too. Time will tell what you have raised this year.
Oscar is a dog of many talents.
BTW off on the frog capturing expedition with the boys from Cannery Row. Not sure why I resisted it over the years.
The hydration isn’t the problem. The grapes got to a greater level of ripeness than we’d wanted. It’s the ripeness which results in sugar content. The higher the sugar, the more to convert to alcohol, therefore the greater the punch to the wine.
We actually might end up making a White Trash wine. We harvested having half a ton of Cinsault — all from only one and half rows of vines. (To give you a comparison, we got half a ton from 6 long rows of Grenache.) Cinsault traditionally is only ever used as a blending grape — maybe 4% of a blended wine. That’s because it’s sickeningly sweet — almost a taste of bubble gum. But one of the local restaurants said, if we can make a single varietal of it, they’ll buy it. They figure it will go down well with the young gals who would otherwise ask for Boone’s Farm. Perhaps we should call it Chateau Bazooka?
If you do “Chateau Bazooka” you gotta have a Bazooka Joe type comic strip featuring The Further Adventures of The Two Terriers – one with an eyepatch!
Girls are still asking for Boone’s Farm? (Shows you how far out of it I am these days.)
Hope Oscar isn’t eating the grapes. I was quite surprised to read (and have confirmed by a vet) that grapes and dogs don’t mix well. What about the fable about the Fox & The Grapes? Oh yeah, its a fable. Still, I’m pretty sure my Dobie used to eat grapes..
I try to keep him from eating grapes since I, too, have read that they can be toxic to dogs. But apparently only to some dogs. There are dogs that can eat grapes without a problem and for others, grapes immediately shut their kidneys down. Oscar seems to like carrying them around, but not actually eating them.
However, I can attest that our foxes LOVE our grapes. They’ll sneak into the vineyard and eat every bunch they can reach. Luckily most are growing out of their grasp.
I feel a contest coming on for your followers to suggest label names for you “dessert” wine.
Chateau Bazooka!! love it.