Tag Archives: Vineyards

Redefining Ripeness

Way back when I firstRiesling started my blog, I covered the concept of ripeness.  What is ripeness and what do different winemakers look at to determine ripeness?  That was back in 2010 and I thought it would be good to cover the topic again given the almost 7 years in between.  In recent years ripeness has become a very hot topic of discussion.  I was in a tasting very recently with one attendee focusing on alcohol primarily and considering high alcohol a fault.  I know several other people who look a less than 14% on a red wine and consider it equally negative as the person who considers that too ripe.  Personally, I like to focus on flavor ripeness but, particularly in upstate NY, one doesn’t always get to decide if your fruit is ripe when a picking decision is made.

I’ve found myself redefining what “ripe” means.  I’ve made quite lovely wines from Brix levels that wouldn’t even be considered for frequent (2-3 times per week) berry sampling in CA.  Now more than ever, I am convinced that the key indicators of grape ripeness are less to do with one or two individual components and much more to do with multi-faceted aspects of vine maturity and grape composition.  Sugar, acid, tannin, flavor, color;  there is no perfect quantity of each of these aspects.  The intersection of each component which drives a picking decision in the mind of a winemaker is purely driven by a stylistic focus.

What this means really is that terroir alone can only take fruit so far.  You hear many winemakers, including myself, saying that they focus on capturing the terroir of a site.  What I have come to understand is that, in reality, what we all mean is that we are capturing the terroir as seen through the lens of our own internal concept of quality and style.

“There is no perfect quantity of each of these aspects.  The intersection of each component which drives a picking decision in the mind of a winemaker is purely driven by a stylistic focus.” 

So what does this mean?  It means that terroir can be enhanced or crippled by the constraints placed upon it by the winemaker making the call.  If one’s key focus is sugar ripeness then, as winemakers, we may loose some of the delicacy and elegance that is found a lower Brix levels.  If low alcohol is the key driver, then the power and grace of ripe tannins may be sacrificed.  If we are waiting for ripe fruit flavors to develop in the grapes, very often we have already lost precursors which would create different complex aromas which could only be unlocked through the fermentation process.  What I’m saying is that multiple winemakers can get fruit from the exact same vineyard however the translation of the terroir will be different depending on that individual winemaker’s concept of what the terroir should give them.  Each can make equally beautiful wines from a great site but the personality of those wines may be widely different and that is okay.

“What I have come to understand is that, in reality, what we all mean is that we are capturing the terroir as seen through the lens of our own internal concept of quality and style.”

This should not be a new concept but I see and hear so many people being so hooked on a particular style of wine that they are unable to even consider, much less enjoy, a different style that may be contrary to their own visions of what wine should be.  However, that is what makes this profession amazingly diverse.  That is why winemaking is a craft and that translation of terroir is unique to each winemaker/vineyard pairing.

I believe, we, as winemakers must understand that our own interpretation of the terroir of a particular site is not the only interpretation. Although we may have been or are making beautiful wines from them, this does not mean that our definition of ripe for particular grapes is the only definition of ripe.  There is no absolute right and wrong.  There are only multiple shades of stylistic definition. That, to my mind, is the most interesting aspect of this profession.

Do you feel terroir is absolute?  Is it possible to have only one distinctive style that is the correct one for a specific site?  Join the discussion below!

 

Vintage 2016 Update

I’m trying to tell my inner CA winemaker to shut up. It’s raining and it’s going to be raining for 5 days. Then we have 3 days of warm and sun and then more rain. Do I pick everything in the window or do I hold out that we might get an Indian Summer mid October. Such is the life of an East Coast winemaker. We, like the folks on the west coast have a general guarantee of weather. Usually it will be less than ideal for harvesting so we all turn into gamblers. Some pick early, some pick later but we all get to compare results at the end which is what makes it fun. 

This summer has been amazing for the vinifera grapes. The severe drought has made berry sizes almost 25% smaller which should make for very concentrated flavor however acids have been dropping rapidly. I’m off to cruise through the Riesling and some of the Cab Franc this morning. Hopefully they will hold up through the next few days of rain in order to fully realize the gift that nature has given us as a vintage this year. 

Small Bites: My Quick News Roundup!

There is so much to talk about from the past few weeks while my family and I have been relocating across the country!  I decided to break them down into small bites…

Bite 1: Arsenic Anyone?

I really don’t want to give this story any more time than it takes for me to acknowledge it however Alder Yarrow from Vinography.com did an amazing post telling you why exactly you shouldn’t be worried about this and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, please read his post here.

Bite 2: WE’RE HERE!!!!!

We arrived into the beautiful and chilly state of New York last weekend and are now settling into our new house.  Currently one entire room is devoted to unpacked, empty boxes but once those get hauled away tomorrow we should be in fairly good shape as far as moving in is concerned.
 

(null)
I started my new job last week and while it is a dramatic change from Robert Mondavi, it should present a good challenge.  Back in January, we closed on 12 acres on the shores of Seneca lake and I went out that day to put “Posted” signs up.  Upon our return last weekend all but 1 of the 6 signs were torn down.  I’m hoping it is just a combination of wind and extreme cold but I can’t help but be worried that the former owner of a nice deer stand on our land may have had something to do with it.  Our goal is to clear much of the land this summer once the soil dries out some from all the snow this winter.  That way we can start to see where our future house and vineyards will go! We are very excited about this new phase of our lives.

Bite 3: Vintage 2015 Update

New York: It’s cold.  It has been VERY, VERY cold this winter.  I’m a little concerned that we may not have many grapes to make wine with from the western side of the state.  Even though we got another 3 inches of snow this morning, signs of spring are everywhere.  Those 3 inches were mostly melted away by mid afternoon.  Robins are showing up and Canadian Geese can be heard flying overhead, heading North.  Maybe we’ll be close to budbreak around the middle of May.

Napa:  Budbreak is everywhere and frost season is in full swing according to a friend of mine.  There has still been very little rain so the area is poised for a 3rd consecutive drought season.  Again, I wouldn’t want the be the grower that has to choose between protecting what crop they may have this year and saving water so that they can ripen that crop.

Those are the bites for the week!  Happy growing season everyone!