Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Best Grapes Ever! What a great year for modern grapes in SW WA!

 Update: Harvest is complete. Only our Delicatessen hung through the 2 days of rain we just got (and desperately needed). Everything else was picked before the rains, with near-perfect wine chemistry and almost no bird loss. 

This is what I just wrote to a friend who's making a Leon Millot red wine from our grapes:

My 2021 Estate Red Batch #2 (75% Leon at 24.5 Brix field test; 25% Mindon at 26 Brix field test) is proceeding exactly according to form. So this might help you expect what you may see:

1. Commingled the fruit and crushed. Added a quart of frozen black currants from our garden (the primary flavor of Cab Sauv). Added pectic enzyme and sulfited for a day. The must showed 24.2 Brix (I was glad it wasn't as high as the field test), and pH = 3.28 (temp-adjusted). These are normal, and that pH is not a concern. It's high enough not to inhibit commercial yeast, and it will rise a lot, as you'll see. I also add a bit of tannin to this variety.
2. I used BDX yeast on this batch (I also often use RC212 as I think you did--I used it on another batch and will blend the finished wine). Punched down twice a day. Three days after pitch, SG = 1030 and pH was 3.65! All that pH rise, from the fermentation. I think some acid precipitates even at room temp, and I think the yeast action uses up other acids. 
3. I pitch MLF before others in this area do, but as I noted y'day, I have my reasons. 
4. After 6 days on skins, I pressed. The skins were looking depleted. I didn't test SG but based on poorly the cap was rising, I bet it was about 1005.
5. The ferm finished in tanks. I started watching for evidence of MLF (rush of tiny bubbles when you suddenly twist the carboy; pH rise).
6. 12 days after harvest, SG is 994, so the wine's totally dry. Temp-adjusted pH is now 3.78. I see tiny bubbles when I twist the carboy. So I know MLF is ongoing. Will watch for it to end, probably in just a few days, as the garage is hanging at about 70F and MLF can finish fast in that temp, if it has good conditions.  In a few days I'll test pH again and once pH rise seems to have stopped, I'll test for ML (I use test strips--a good kit and spendy; Kim uses (I think) chromatography).  I'm guessing the pH might stop at about 3.85.
7. Once that's done, then I'll rack off the lees onto oak, and sulfite, and add tartaric for about pH 3.6, and age through the winter. (Always add tartaric in quarter-doses, as we never know the buffering capacity of a particular wine, and if you over-acidify the wine, then you have to add K-Carb and that requires Cold Stabilization--a PITA, and it's horsing around the wine unnecessarily. I've learned that the hard way. Ditto with K-Carb--always add it in quarter-doses (25% of what the formula says you need).

This red is easy to make (once you understand how to manage its pH), and it takes oak well, and ages well for at least 5 years. In warm years with light crop, you get purple fruits, forest floor, chocolate. In cooler years, or in warmer years with heavy load (as my vines were this year, despite my dropping about 1/3 of the fruit this year) you get more cherry flavors with some purple fruit. That is what I'm tasting now, but it might change with age.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Update on what is looking to be a very great grape harvest

 We had two huge heat events this summer, so our GDDs are pretty high. Spring was a bit early also. Our earlier modern grapes are really proving their worth. Our Blattner Labelle is fully ripe (24 Brix; great flavors) and it is such an early grape that the birds are still eating our wild blackberries, so we didn't have to net and we're at only about 1% bird loss.  Also ripe are Jupiter (ranging from 21-22) and Monastery Muscat (20-21). Golubok is very close--some clusters (23 Brix) are already picked, but most (20-21 Brix) need another week. Leon Millot, which I used to think of as very early, is also close (ranging from 21-23). This all seems crazy early, but it's great. And the rumors of wine's demise in western WA were premature--we haven't had one whiff of smoke all summer, despite major wildfires all around our S, E, and N--the onshore winds from the Pacific have been consistent, and saved us. However, the later grapes are at risk of both voracious birds and smoke, and everything is affected by our drought--we're seeing some shriveling and had to do some supplemental irrigation during the summer, which is unusual. So we will see. Due to climate change I think, yields are way above average this year. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Grape Ripening Surprise!

So, I was thinking of Golubok as a very early grape, about like Leon Millot rouge. But, my Blattner Labelle is proving itself even earlier. On August 14, Labelle is about 95% fully colored and already tasting sweet, when Leon is about 75% colored now and G'bok ranges from 5% colored to about 80% colored. 

1. Such earliness for Labelle seems like a quadruple advantage this year: (a) In our severe drought, some grapes are already shriveling, so a very early grape will get off the vine before it suffers as much shriveling, right? (b) This intense heat and drought are causing the wild Himalayan blackberries (our invasive weed but its fruit tastes great) to shrivel early, and the blackberries are the birds' preferred food, so if the blackberries aren't available, that's when the birds turn to the grapes, and the super-early grapes have the advantage there as well, right? (I might be able to take my Labelle in 2 weeks, whereas Pinot Noir is harvested in late Sept or early Oct, so the Pinot could see hugely more bird pressure). (c) Just like last year, the forest fire smoke held off until mid-August, then the onshore ocean winds shifted and we got hammered by heavy smoke. It may be starting up again this year--2 days ago the haze started up here (and I think it's been bad already over the drier/hotter east side of WA). A super-early grape might see fewer smoky days. (d) And finally, Labelle is tenteurier, so even if it does see heavy smoke, we can press the red juice off the skins and make a skinless red wine without smoke taint. For the win!

Another big advantage of Labelle, in a world where climate change is pushing more and more grape flavors towards black fruit flavors (I would put G'bok and Cab and Merlot and Syrah and Tempranillo in that category), is that Labelle has blue and red fruit flavors. It also sets a lot of fruit. FYI -I got my Labelles from Paul in Canada (legal import; lots of paperwork and expense). 

2. I am surprised that G'bok would show such a wide variation in veraison timing. All my vines came from the same vineyard, and are now in the same row, and same size, etc. One vine has only one cluster which looks like a mistake white grape, but a single berry on it is purple. Another vine has a cluster that's 80% dark purple. The other clusters are in between. Maybe it is because it's the vines' 2nd year? In contrast, the Leon and the Labelle are each almost perfectly synchronized--equal % veraison from cluster to cluster on each variety. That, of course, is what we want--all clusters getting ripe at the same time.

Harvest is close for we who grow modern grapes!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Even in France, modern varieties of grapes are finally being accepted!

 Check out this article.

In the 1800s and 1900s, France outlawed modern grapes, due to the power of the vinifera grapegrowers' lobby. (They didn't appreciate the threat that the new grapes represented to the old ways.) But modern grapes don't need to be sprayed for mildew, and they have resistance to phylloxera, and these are powerful reasons to grow them. Check out my book Modern Grapes for the Pacific Northwest, for the full story.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Climate change is harming vineyards

 All of us grapegrowers are noticing changes in the climate--we see it right on our grapevines. 

France was just devastated by a vicious 1-2 punch: It was 90F there recently (too warm, too early) and the grapevines were budding out in response, and then a severe freeze (down to 22F, too cold, too late) hit the vines. That sudden chill killed the new growth, despite heroic efforts to light smudgepots in entire vineyards. This affected all the major French wine regions. It will lower grape production by as much as half.

Renewable race car fuel made from grapes!

 Seems too perfect to be true ;)  Here's the article: