2007 Vintage Musings II: the numbers game

I have now participated in 6 harvests and in each of them the winemakers I worked for decided when to pick based upon flavors.

Sure seems simple and straightforward, no? To put it as I have heard David Ramey say, delicious fruit should make delicious wine, so pick when the fruit tastes delicious. Now of course this will be slightly different depending on the winemaker, but I am beginning to wonder how much picking by flavor we actually do?

This may be more of a study in human nature than anything else. Furthermore it is dangerous to probe into the motives of others when indeed you have not discussed the said motives with everyone. Therefore it is with slight trepidation that I type the following cerebral massage. After all it is often easy to misrepresent someone else’s position in order to enhance something you have been thinking all along. I hope that is not what I am doing here. Rather, I am trying to reconcile what I hear winemakers saying, with what I observe them doing.

The 2007 vintage has been terrific thus far. Starting a bit early with a warm spring, the lack of late winter/early spring rain led to a rare occurrence of early season water stress. A relatively consistent and cool summer has everyone fired up for the potential quality this year. As we approached harvest several winemakers (including us) remarked at how the flavors (perhaps read deliciousness) appear to have come earlier this year which would lead one to assume that picking at a lower Brix would be possible (see here in CA, sugar ripeness almost always outpaces physiological or flavor ripeness necessitating that producers pick at high potential alcohol levels). “Wohoo,” we thought. Being able to pick at lower potential alcohols with tremendous flavors = great wine with less cellar inputs.

But as pick dates approached, I began hearing – as one friend put it – something to the effect of I think the flavors are there but I am afraid to pull the low-Brix trigger. I remember walking the block of another producer the day before we were picking thinking, they have got to get this stuff off. It wasn’t picked until the next week. We even picked some Merlot and Syrah before a couple of producers picked their Pinot noir and Chardonnay from the same vineyard.