As I write, the vineyard crew is picking the first batch of Tempranillo for the 2014 harvest. The Sauvignon Blanc is all picked, fermenting happily at the winery. We’ve also picked a small batch of Syrah for Rosé, and finished the Pinot Noir. Still left are the Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Overall, the quality of the vintage is awesome, while the volume is lighter than average for Six Sigma Ranch.
One of the biggest decisions each year is timing of the harvest. While it is simple and tempting to pick purely based on Brix (sugar levels), winemaker Matt makes his decisions on much more than that. Here are a few things he tracks to make the perfect picking decision:
1. Seeds. The seeds need to turn brown and become crunchy, developing aromatics of reminding of roasted hazelnuts. If they are still green and bitter, those components will translate into the wine.
2. Color. Juice from wine grapes is always clear. All color in red wine comes from the skins during fermentation. For that reason, the grapes need to be mature enough to easily transfer the color from the skins. Matt checks this by splitting a grape open and checking if the color “bleeds.”
3. Taste. Unripe grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, have a “green” character reminiscent of green bell peppers. As grapes ripen, the green components turn into the beautiful, fruity characteristics you look for in a quality wine.
4. Chemistry. In addition to the field observations, Matt confirms in his laboratory that sugar, acidity and other components are where he wants them to be.