Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | September 29, 2010

Chemistry With Precision In An Anything But Precise Year

2010 Pinot Noir Harvest

Thomson Vineyards wrapped its Pinot Noir harvest last Friday with exception of the 1 Ton that remains on the vine to be harvested this Friday for its first vintage under The Farmer’s own label.

Four winemakers opted to pick at 23 Brix this year – each with the intent of making approachable and food friendly wines which is a fancy way of saying, “lower alcohol.”

The sampling and chemistry performed to acquire Brix, pH, and TA leading up to the pick is a haggard road, fraught with emails, phone calls and on site visits between the grower and the winemaker.

One winemaker, Peter Hunken of Black Sheep Finds who picked for the second year at 23 Brix, said on September 20 about the 2010 harvest, “One of the hardest decisions is always when to pick…”

Peter flies several times a year between Santa Barbara and San Francisco and makes the 50 minute drive to Carneros to check on Thomson Vineyards Block 1 fruit. Carefully managed from an irrigation standpoint this season at Peter’s request, Peter confirmed on September 25 that, “Tanks are not as juicy as last year which I will attribute to you and The Farmer and GeoVit Vineyard Services, Dana Zaccone putting your trust in us with the limited irrigation.  Things will cold soak for a few days and I will send lab samples for juice analysis on Monday.”

We haven’t gotten the lab analysis back on that fruit, but we’ve been here before with Peter and his 2009 Hocus Pocus Pinot Noir Thomson Vineyard Carneros made a pretty good wine; even if The Farmer still turns his nose up at harvesting at 23 Brix. He and @BParkerChuck who stated on Twitter recently that he sees red when Farmers pick fruit below 25.5 Brix.

Obsession or Incessant Discussion?

While The Farmer waits for the analysis on Block 1, I figured I’d highlight the haggard road I went down with The Infamous Winemaker in blocks 3 and 4 where he was the first of the four to pull the rip cord and call for a pick on September 16 (clone 667) and again on September 20 (Martini clone). It should be noted that The Infamous Winemaker also has an obsession with a recently published article in Winemaker Magazine and the following target ranges for Pinot Noir Chemistry: Brix=23 – 24.5 pH=3.3 – 3.6 TA=0.6 – 0.8.

It’s exactly with that kind of precision in mind <sarcasm intended> that 2010 sampling in the vineyard occurred leading up to harvest and chemistry performed by three sources 1) Thomson Vineyards 2) Infamous Winemaker Winery Crew and/or  3) Certified Lab. Following are the results if you can keep up with all this 1A Junior College Chemistry:

Sample Date: 9/1

Sample Crew: The Millennial Daughter, Infamous Winemaker, Winemaker’s Esteemed Assistant

Sample Type: 100 berry sample, combined block 3 & 4, random rows

Sample Time of Day: 7-8 a.m.

Sample Notes: Chemistry performed 9/2 or 9/3

Sample Chem: Performed by Infamous Winemaker Winery Crew

Brix=19.7 pH=3.08 , no TA

Sample Date: 9/10

Sample Crew: The Millennial Daughter, Infamous Winemaker, Winemaker’s Esteemed Assistant

Sample Type: 100 berry sample, combined block 3 & 4, random rows

Sample Time of Day: 7-8 a.m.

Sample Notes: Chemistry performed 9/11, sample sent in cooler and stored in fridge. Sample mailed to Vinquiry for certified lab testing and confirmation of Winery chemistry results.

Vinquiry Certified Lab Chem: Vinquiry confirms at later date no sample received at their labs. Upon more investigation it seems the sample “exploded” at the postal drop and valiant USPS employees discarded of the hazardous waste!

Sample Chem: Performed by Infamous Winemaker Winery Crew

Brix=22.6 pH=3.44, no TA

Sample Date: 9/11

Sample Crew: The Farmer, The Millennial Daughter/ Winemaker Handler, and FT vineyard employee.

Sample Type: 100 berry sample, Block 3 – 2 samples, Block 4 – 2 samples, stored in refrigerator for 24 hours

Sample Time of Day: 7 a.m. on the dot. I was late and got reamed by The Farmer for the crew being there and me leaving them hanging. Work one harvest and you’ll quickly understand it’s not cool to leave the crew waiting on you while you roll up with a hot coffee in hand.

Sample Chem: Performed by Thomson Vineyards. Numbers right on in 2009. Right on in 2010. We’re not lucky, we’re just good.

Block 3 Sample 1

Brix=23 pH=3.419 TA=0.75

Block 3 Sample 2

Brix=23 pH=3.411 TA=0.72

Block 4 Sample 1

Brix=22 pH=3.428 TA=0.82

Block 4 Sample 2

Brix=21 pH=3.459 TA=0.83

Sample Date: 9/14

Sample Crew: The Millennial Daughter, Infamous Winemaker

Sample Time: 2-3 p.m. We got sidetracked at lunch.

Sample Type: 100 berry sample combined block 3 & 4 (2 samples, 1 for Winery 1 for Gusmer Certified Lab), whole cluster sample (2 samples, 1 for Winery 1 for Gusmer Certified Lab)

In the Field Chem: Brix=24.4, Infamous Winemaker’s digital refractometer

Sample Chem: Performed by Gusmer Certified Lab

Brix=23.9 pH=3.77 TA=.55

Harvest Date: 9/16

Gusmer Certified Lab Chem:

pH measure=3.87

Total Titratable Acidity=.0.50 g/100ml

Brix, Refractometer=23.5

Nitrogen, Amino Acids NOPA=3.52 ppm

Ammonia Nitrogen, Enzymatic=128 ppm

Yeast Available Nitrogen=480 ppm

Infamous Winemaker’s post harvest comments: Chemistry results confirm, “middling brix, elevated pH, and depressed TA #s.”

Fermentation Sample Date: 9/27

Brix: -1.4

T: 67

pH: 3.36

TA: 8.78

Notes: From Esteemed Winemaking Assistant, “Cherry and Bubblegum.  Slightly sweet with light effervescence. Looking GOOD, Infamous Winemaker!”  and from Infamous Winemaker himself, “[cherry, raspberry, and a firm acidity].”

Till Next Year...

Stick with me for the ongoing scientific trials and tribulations concerning the recently concluded Martini clone harvest; where two out of three winemakers are ecstatic that they got their hands on some of The Farmer’s precious 34-year-old Pinot Noir Carneros vines. I’ll give you one guess just which winemaker is the most difficult to please.

Until then, a wise man once said, “I felt we were close to harvest last Friday based solely on taste which, assuming the #s are within the big range – is the most important factor determining the pick.  One year, you may need to pick at a relatively lower Brix and the next at a much higher Brix to pull ripe fruit off that will make the best wine.  If we could simply make wine by numbers it would be much easier…and less fun!”

Mixed messages are his specialty.

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