Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Analyze a Harvest Report

Harvest reports are flooding the wine industry media now. If you are a buyer of grapes or a winemaker already, you know how to view these reports. But for the “others” among us, the comments below from Elizabeth Standeven, who is the current President of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association, give some perspectives that are useful and will enhance your appreciation of grower concerns at harvest time.

Elizabeth says, “One thing many growers (and wineries) tend to track pretty closely is Brix (a measure of how much sugar and therefore potential alcohol of the finished wine). Other things they should e tracking, but not all do, is TA (total acidity) and pH.

“These 3 measures (Brix, TA, pH) plus favors in the grapes are generally what growers and wineries try to optimize at harvest........that said, the optimal range of each measure isn't always met, so that is where winemakers earn their pay.

“In an ideal situation the grower and winemaker work together to decide exactly when to pick based on what these ripening criteria suggest would be ideal for the type or style of wine they want to make. Each winemaker has his/her own style and "tricks" they use to adjust the grape-must before's a matter of stylistic preference.

“Other things growers are looking at this time of year:

· Crop load....not exactly cluster appearance...more of a broad brush how much crop is out there and whether it is ripening uniformly or not.

· Bunch rot- lots of different kinds can also show up this time of year as the grapes soften just before final ripeness... these include several different kinds of molds and mildews that can attack, especially tight clusters or clusters that get rained on.

· Labor - another issue this time of year...a limited pool and if many varietals ripen at once...not enough hands to go around

· Tank space - while not exactly a grower issue, if a given winery takes in too much of varietal A and runs out of tank space for varietal B the grower could get a call saying the winery will take less than previously discussed

· Weather - too much excessive heat or rain this time of year can ruin certain grapes.

· Logistics - always an issue...getting the winery, picking crew, and equipment ready to go at the same time

· Birds and other critters eating your grapes - this year we are experiencing extra bird and turkey pressure on the Shaker Ridge, we had to put out more bird nets, borrow the neighbor's dog to chase turkeys and we have our annual visitations from the neighborhood bear(s).

· Hang time - for us, hang time isn't a concern usually....the grapes are ripe when they are ripe....if it takes too long to ripen (like in a cool year) then you run a greater risk of running out of good weather to fully ripen the grapes. At higher elevations and some later ripening varietals have more issues here.

I am sure there are other concerns out there, but this is what was on my mind today!

Shaker Ridge Barbera,
to be harvested soon

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What is "Bottle Shock"?

With kudos to the folks at Bodega Del Sur winery, in Murphys, Calaveras County, I am re-printing the excellent piece from their latest newsletter, written by winemaker Brett Keller.  It's a great explanation of this phenomenon!

"Recently, Bodega Del Sur bottled some new wines for your enjoyment! During bottling, one of our crew asked, "What is Bottle Shock?" Well, there is a lot more to it than a clever movie showing California's dominance over French wine...!

"Bottle Shock" is the term we use to describe the tumultuous journey of wine from the barrel to the bottle. After staying stationary for up to thirty months in oak barrels the wine is suddenly taken from its slumber, moved to a tank, filtered, and pumped gently to the bottling line where it falls with gravity into the bottle. It's kind of like being rudely awaken from a good sound sleep and being thrown into a lake!

During the process of bottling we are also adding sulfites as a preservative to prevent spoilage and amend sulfur dioxides that naturally occur in wine. As we bottle the wines we treat them as gently as possible with slow movement of the wine, minimal use of sulfites, and almost compete lack of contact with oxygen, which can oxidize the wine too quickly. Despite our best efforts, all the components of the wines that came together over the last couple of years tend to be a bit shaken, and they temporarily become a bit disjointed... When the wines make the bottle we use inert gas and a vacuum sealer to cork the bottle to protect it. Once the bottle is corked it is almost an impermable vessel, other than the slow movement of tiny amounts of oxygen that passes through the cork.
Bottles ready for tasting and buying
at their Murphys tasting room
"Bottle Shock" will generally last for a period of three to six weeks, after which time the wine tends to recompose itself and once again prepare for its long cellar sleep, until you, our valued customers, have a chance to taste our efforts. We release our wines after the period of "Bottle Shock" has run it course, during which time we are frequently checking its progress towards readiness.

Until then, watch the movie 'Bottle Shock' with Alan Rickman. It is an entertaining rendition of what makes a small winery in the early seventies Napa Valley 'shock' the world with its sojourn into the annals of winemaking history...

Until next time, Brett Keller, Winemaker" 

For more info on their fine wines, go to