Making Hay While the Sun Shines
Hey folks, we’re in the midst of harvesting a bumper crop of fine Pinot Noir and I thought I’d write a quick note to bring the blog up to date…
This year our grapes are the best quality we’ve ever had and the largest quantity. A miracle, indeed, considering that veraison — the grapes’ colour change signalling the start of ripening — occurred three weeks late. The summer brought so many cool days and rainy weather that the vines just couldn’t ripen their fruit. At that point I thought, “the only thing that can save us now would be a dry, hot September with record-breaking heat.” Even though we had worked extremely hard to ward off the mold and mildew caused by wet cool weather, ripening was something largely dependent on the weather, which just hadn’t cooperated. Dejectedly, I steeled myself for a late harvest of underripe, astringent fruit.
But wow, I can’t believe how wrong I was. The weather we wanted, happened. The unusual heat wave this September ripened our fruit to perfection in half the usual time.
Last week Sue took some brix readings and the sugars came in at 20+ brix, a level which signals near-ripeness. We aren’t striving for extended hang time, and raisiny, baked-fruit flavours. To make our wines we need bright, exciting fruit that explodes in your mouth with absolute deliciousness. So we need to harvest at just the right moment.
I decided to assess the situation immediately and scouted the vineyard to sample all the varieties, tasting for the development of fruitiness, sweetness, and for the absence of under-ripe, green astringency. I checked stems and canes to see if they were still green or a beautiful coppery brown ripe colour. I looked for wasp and bird damage, and for missing grapes at the bottom of the canopy (nature is a terrific detector of ripeness). I examined colour, and for signs of berries bursting with ripeness. I checked the leaves for signs of mildew and mold.
The fruit was in nearly perfect health, and showing good brix numbers. When I popped a berry in my mouth, it exploded in a delightful burst of acidity, sweetness, and complex fruit flavours. When I spit the seeds into my hand, they were and nice toasty brown colour and the pulp fell away easily from them.
All the signs pointed to — “START HARVEST NOW!”
And so we started harvest ten days ahead of when we had planned. It’s possible that we’ll be finished before our planned harvest event on October 7-8, but if there is one lesson I’ve learned in grape-growing, it’s “when pinot noir is ripe, PICK IT!” If you dally around, the situation can turn bad very quickly. You never know when a few days of bad weather will show up, delaying harvest further. And it’s surprising how fast a crop of beautiful shiny Pinot Noir can turn into a shriveled, mushy moldy mess.
Gotta get those grapes in now. Make hay while the sun shines, as the old farmers’ saying goes.