Monday, September 17, 2012

Hang Time at Rancho Olivo Vineyards: Listening to Grapes in the Sierra Foothills

Nello Olivo, the owner of Rancho Olivo Vineyards and Nello Olivo Wines in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills, sends this interesting perspective on harvest and hangtime:

"The grape harvest is coming soon, and one of the most important decisions we make as winemakers involves hang time—how long to let the grapes hang on the vine.

The grapes look ripe. If I were a wine-grower interested in making the most money selling my grapes by weight, I might pick them soon. The longer fruit hangs, the more moisture it loses, and the lighter  in weight it gets.

But I don't care about weight. I care about giving the best flavor and highest qualities to my wine. The longer I let the grapes hang (without rain or irrigation), the more intense and full will be the flavor of the wine.

Knowing the right moment for harvesting is a tricky decision based partly on science, on the weather, on the style of wines I prefer to create,  and also based on experience and old-fashioned instinct.

The science part comes in testing the grapes for acidity (pH) and for sugar content. As long as the pH stays below 3.60 and the sugar content  under 25 brix, I'm likely to let the fruit hang. And I use all my senses as well to help make the crucial decision of when to pick. How the grapes look, the texture of the pulp, the dryness of the seed, skin color and tightness of the fruit cluster.  And of course, the big one: how the fruit tastes.

I rely on my trusted team, including Lance Johnson, vineyard operations manager, and Marco Cappelli, winemaker. We'll monitor the status of the grapes every day, sometimes more than once.

Hang time in the vineyard is like those last couple of weeks before a baby is born. It's a time full of anticipation, of paying attention to every little sign, and of being ready in every possible way.
Each varietal is different. Each section of the vineyard is different. Each year is different. You have to know your vineyard intimately, and you  have to be patient and listen to it "talk" to you.

All over California right now, harvesting teams are standing ready, waiting for the call to pick. When the grapes tell me it's time, I'll make the call."

More information about Nello Olivo wines, from their website:

Nello Olivo wines are produced by Rancho Olivo Vineyards, owned and operated by Nello and Danica Olivo in Cameron Park, California.

Old-world Dream

The Olivos have chosen to grow old-world style grapes—particularly those common to regions of Italy, Nello's ancestral home—which flourish in the California Sierra Foothills terroir and climate.
"A lifelong dream of mine," says Nello, "has been to grow my own grapes and produce my own wine. That's exactly what my grandfather did who came from the old country. It's a passion in me. It's probably in my blood. When I'm doing that, I feel like a happy little kid!"

New-world Excellence

If Nello's wines succeed in expressing that joy, it's because of his exacting care over every aspect of wine production. Combining hand-tended tradition with the best of new-world care, his vineyard is recognized as one of the best managed in the region. And his grapes are acclaimed among the highest quality available. The proof is in the gold and double-gold medals won by wineries who use his grapes in their own wines.
Rancho Olivo Vineyards is a true boutique winery, producing less than 100 cases of each varietal annually. This makes Nello Olivo wines true sought-after treasures by those who have discovered its qualities.

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