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Picking Decisions

Harvest is the critical time between late-August and early-November when picking decisions are made. These time sensitive choices can make or break the quality of a vintage. As a winemaker it is important to draw on past experiences, knowledge, and instincts to navigate the hurdles that Mother Nature can present.

While on the vine, grapes are slowly building up sugars through photosynthesis, and losing acidity through Respiration.  Once the decision has been made to pick the grapes you are essentially locked into the flavors and ripeness levels that are present. If picked too early you risk producing wines that display a lot of bitterness, tartness, and a strong character of herbaceousness (green, under-ripe fruit). Conversely, leaving the grapes on the vine too long can create a different set of problems: high alcohol wines that lack natural acidity and balance  or have  raisin or stewed fruit  flavors.  It is up to the winemaker to carefully determine where, in the spectrum of ripeness, they would like the grapes to be and therefore the style of wine they want to make.

Here are few factors that will influence the decision of when to pick…

  • Sugar and acidity levels:  The balance between sugar and acidity in the grapes at harvest is considered one of the most critical aspects to producing a quality wine. These two factors are monitored very closely during harvest through vineyard sampling - checking the pH level, titratable acidity (TA), and ° Brix (percentage of sugar and thus potential alcohol content). Grapes with good chemistry are an important part of quality winemaking.
  • Physiological ripeness: Physiological ripeness is generally evaluated by tasting the fruit in the vineyard, looking for a more complete ripeness. The evaluation includes observing the maturity of the skin tannins, color of the seeds/stems (green vs. brown), skin color, pulp texture, and overall flavor development.
  • Weather: A totally unpredictable factor that can quickly alter picking plans and strategies. Conditions such as a heat wave, early frost, or the season’s first big storm can throw a giant curve-ball into the harvesting plans. These events will often cause a mad-dash to get the fruit off the vine before unfortunate weather threatens to ruin the season’s crop.

Harvest is the time of the year that we live for.  Each year presents new challenges, new opportunities and new excitement for making delicious wines!


Eric Mohseni – Winemaker

Posted on: Nov 3, 2011