“And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Excerpt from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
Mention the word “harvest” to the winemaker, Terry Culton, anytime between August and November of each year and you will notice his unique expression with equal parts excitement, caution, fatigue and optimism. Even with his many years of experience orchestrating this hectic event, he remains vigilant and prepared for decisions and revisions before he has had the opportunity to finish his first cup of coffee.
Harvest is the culmination of countless long hours spent in the vineyard ploughing, planting, suckering, pruning, trimming, thinning and endless assessment and reassessment. Wineries generally have the same harvest goal: deliver the highest quality grapes possible from the vineyard to the crush pad, in the best condition possible. The most important choice a winemaker is tasked with is determining exactly when to pick the grapes. Picking too soon can result in high acid, bitter tannins and a lack of flavor and aromas. Grapes picked too late may have low acid, a flabby mouthfeel, high sugar content that can cause high alcohols and a challenging –or even stuck—fermentation, along with the rising risk of rain or frost destroying the crop.
The picking decision comes from a combination of science and art. In the laboratory, Terry meticulously reviews each day’s chemistry results from testing grape samples. The brix (a measurement of sugar) and acid levels begin to paint a picture of ripeness, but it is Terry’s experience that completes the masterpiece. Out in the vineyard, he checks for phenolic maturity, gauging the intensity and character of flavors and the quality of tannins. He examines the skin thickness and both the seed and stem colors. Ultimately, he looks for the balance between sugar and acidity with flavor and tannins.
Terry also frequently studies the weather app on his phone, searching for data in the forecast that could affect his picking decisions. A heat spike or looming summer rain could change the ripeness and quality of the grapes in a short time span. In the preceding months, Paso Robles has seen sun, rain, frost, wind and sometimes all the above in one day. The moment it seemed as if the vineyards had seen it all, Mother Nature threw one last curveball for the 2020 vintage with smoke from fires in the North! Our heartfelt well wishes go out to all those that were affected.
If you follow us on social media, you may have seen that harvest is underway. The winery staff celebrated the first pick of the 2020 vintage with a sip of the currently available Le Vigne sparkling wine. Sangiovese from our Acquarello Estate vineyard reached the desired characteristics for what is destined to be a new and unique sparkling wine made in the traditional method, called méthode champenoise. A laborious process, méthode champenoise requires a secondary fermentation to occur within each individual bottle and additional, specialized equipment. We have selected a boutique sparkling wine producer, with over 30 years of experience making high end sparklings, to assist us in creating this wine. Because of the fermentation and aging process, the Sangiovese sparkling wine will not be available for nearly two years. We cannot wait to experience it with you!
While the Sangiovese grapes mentioned above were ready sooner than any other variety, and the wine has already completed alcoholic fermentation, we may get the next batch in as soon as next Tuesday. Out in our Domenico Estate vineyard, the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot are creeping closer to being chosen for their time to shine. It will not be long before we are picking, pressing, crushing and adding yeast for fermentation nearly every day, including on the weekends. Follow us on social media and our website, for frequent updates on the “Class of 2020” as well as more detail on the different wine making processes!