September 23, 2009

Pinot is getting ripe

A friend pulled samples today from a series of vineyards around the northern Willamette Valley, including the two where I'm getting fruit. I stopped by the winery to help process them, meaning hand crush the clusters from each site and block in ziplock bags, using the juice to analyze ph, brix and aromas and flavors.

You can immediately tell the relative ripeness of a sample by how much the juice colors up. The riper the grapes, the easier the pigments from the grape skins leech into the juice. Then you can test the ph with meter and the sugar content with a refractometer. Then you can smell and taste the juice to see what you think. When I first started tasting juice samples, I wasn't so clear on what I was looking for. Now I see more how to evaluate the intensity of fruit ripeness, the green qualities of less ripe fruit and the sense of acid balance in the very sweet (even when less than "ripe") juice.

So how are things looking? Given these samples, sugars are broadly in the 22 to 23 range in most sites, even with older vines that generally take longer to ripen than younger vines. Colors are variable, but that's not a big issue. Flavors, in general, aren't "there." Meaning, they still have stem or leaf characters that need to ripen out. I'm not looking for jammy, superripe fruit that drives the wine critics to spasm. But clearly these grapes need more time on the vine. Acids are generally in the 3.25-3.35ph range, so that's good. We'll see a rise in sugars and ph, how much is anyone's guess. First fruit looks to come in next week. One of my sites is around 22 brix and 3.3ph and likely won't be in for two weeks.

How's the weather forecast? Great for the next week, then cooling and maybe a little rain a week from now, then who knows. I like to look at weather forecast models. Here's a basic 10-day loop that is pretty easy to interpret. Orange and red is warm, green and blue is cold and this time of year that usually means wet. Keep an eye on this and you'll have an inside track on what we're basically dealing with. Stay tuned.

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