Stopping By Vines on a Foggy Morning
Sampling berries is one of the great perks of winemaking. Every vintner partakes in the same pre-harvest ritual, walking the vineyard rows, picking berries to eat and analyze, looking for tell-tale signs of ripeness. I always pull my samples first thing in the morning. It’s convenient but also happens to be a spectacular time for a vineyard stroll. The vineyards are quiet, except for rustling leaves and squawking birds. It’s a contemplative and methodical exercise. I walk the rows grabbing berries from the front, back, top, and bottoms of clusters. I try to be as random as possible, striding whole rows, back and forth, with a discernible rhythm. It’s a good time to think or problem solve.
Today I pulled samples from our two Sonoma Coast vineyards, Gap’s Crown and Sangiacomo. Although they are on the same road, literally a stone’s throw apart, Gap’s is the riper of the two sites. There’s both a qualitative je ne sais qua and hard quantitative data. I taste the fruit, assessing flavor development, acid, and sweetness. I evaluate the seed color and if they easily dissociate from the surrounding pulp. I chew grape skins deciding if the tannins are chalky and green or soft and mild. I sigh, absorb Nature’s sublime beauty and compare myself to Robert Frost. “Miles to go before I sleep,” I sing to an unsuspecting hare. And then I go to the lab.
For street cred, I pretend that I can taste brix, but I rely heavily on laboratory data. I measure the sugar content (soluble solids), pH, and acid. I can track and map those numbers, measuring ripeness on a graph. As harvest approaches, sugar increases, acid drops, and the pH nudges upward. I trust the data more than my amateur palate. Each year my qualitative skills improve, but I’m still a novice.
Sangiacomo Vineyard is a new addition to the Bruliam armamentarium. I started seeking out this fruit a couple of years ago, after tasting Greg LaFollette’s Sangiacomo bottling at a local wine event. It was my favorite pinot of the tasting. After two years of unsuccessful bids to win Sangiacomo fruit, we were rewarded in 2012. I’ll be getting fruit from two different blocks, clones 115 and Pommard. I can’t wait until this lovely, cool climate pinot is ripe.
For you number geeks, here are the digits:
(9/7/12) Sangiacomo; 13 clone 115
(9/17/12) Sangiacomo; Pommard