This is a brief harvest update covering the last half of October. The weather the last two weeks of October was just as nice as the day is long - we even picked up a few degree days! Harvest began as it always does, in earnest, on Sunday, October 23rd. Once harvest is finished, we will publish a complete harvest "After Action Report" (AAR.)
As we began harvest, our soils had mostly dried out from the early October rains. This was key not only for better concentration of the fruit, but tractor safety. Ernie hauls our hand harvested grapes to the winery using a three "tote bin" trailer. Each tote bin weighs in at about 900 pounds, add the trailer and you are at just about 2 tons. Imagine pulling that load across a 15% side slope on two small trailer tires. Now imagine rainy wet conditions that turn our clay based soils into luge runs. Yeah, it's a long way to the top if you got some grapes to haul...
The 2011 "Cluster Pluck" is winding down. We finished picking all of our Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir on November 2, 2011 (11/02/2011.) The Chardonnay was taken from the vine today, and the Syrah and Viognier, well Ernie just went and bought some bird netting to augment our bird callers. Those grapes are holding tight.
The aroma in the winery is just stunning! We ferment our Pinot Noir in 1.5 ton "Macrobin" fermenters. We sort our fruit in the field and then again when we are loading it into the fermenters. The first portion is the whole clusters, and then we destem the rest of the fruit on top. We add a little Sulfur Dioxide to keep the bad bugs out of the race until our native yeast can dominate the fermentation.
The first week or so is pretty boring, all of the action is at the microbial level. But after that, we can start to smell the sweet perfumed aromas of Pinot Noir. This is unadulterated juice fermented by Amalie Robert Estate native yeast not complicated by oak barrels. We try very hard to steward these aromas through the barrel maturation time and into the bottle. We realize that some folks highly regard the extracted style of Pinot Noir, but we prefer this elegant elixir hands down.
Here are some numbers to chew on - 3.14. This is what we like to start with in the morning. A nice warm slice of peach 3.14. Then there are Brix numbers. Brix is a measure of fermentable sugars. We are seeing Brix levels range from about 20.5 to 22.5. We estimate a 60% conversion rate to alcohol. So lets say we average 21.5 brix for the vintage, then we should see final alcohols in the 12.9% range. Nice.
Next is pH. This is a measure, actually more of a guide at this point, of the juice acidity. This is made up of 2 parts - Malic Acid and Tartaric Acid. We are seeing pH levels in the 3.14 to 3.25 range measured at the end of the day. This is a very nice place to be for several reasons.
The first and most important is for microbial stability in a native fermentation. High pH juice (think sweeter) is easier for spoilage organisms to grow. At Amalie Robert Estate, we like to "tart it up" a bit.
Another benefit of these low pH's is that we are not adding much, if any, Tartaric Acid back to the juice to lower the pH. This should appeal to the so called "Natural Wine" movement.
And finally, the finished wines will benefit from this natural acidity providing the potential for extended bottle development and maturation.
Distill all of this down with another number - 17. That is the number of days we have extended the 2011 harvest window. The longer those grape skins are out in the field, the more interesting flavors and aromas they develop.
We have extended the 2011 harvest window by 2 1/2 weeks. This additional time has been accumulated in the skins, and if handled gently and not over extracted in a hot fermentation or over oaked in the cellar (Parkerized?), will show as layered and nuanced aromas in the finished wines.
Hang time does not in and of itself create bigger wines, but perhaps, just maybe, contributes a bit more complexity and sophistication. We are smelling that now, but you will have to wait a couple of years. On a related note, have you enjoyed any 2007 Pinots lately?
All the best,
Dena and Ernie
Note: The Wine Advocate has just released their review of the latest crop of Oregon Pinot Noirs. This video, while not at all associated with The Wine Advocate (and we didn't make it), may provide some backlighting on the whole "Parker" issue.
Downfall of a Cult Californian Winery