SOME IMPORTANT WINEMAKING DECISIONS I MAKE ON A LOT BY LOT BASIS DURING HARVEST
there are many important decisions, I tried to keep something brief for once and only pick a handful that are crucial (in my opinion, different styles of winemaking create different priorities). these are decisions that are made differently for each lot. things like how we sort, monitor ferms, etc are pretty consistent.
- •When to pick.This is complicated. Most people try and make it simple by focusing on perceived character and sugar content. While that will yield you pretty decent results most of the time, it puts you at risk of bad calls in outlier weather years or years with weird variability (like 2015 for a lot of our fruit). Phenolic maturity and sugar content are the first tier factors, but I pay close attention to pH, pulp detachment, lignification, color, seed maturity and skin maturity.
- •How much tartaric acid to add/target pH.Tartaric acid is the predominant organic acid in grapes. We add more to lower the pH to ranges we prefer for our executed style. How much to add, what range to shoot for, how starting pH will affect finished pH (0.1-0.2 higher than where we start usually), how the acid content of the wine will affect perception (varying ratios of tartaric to malic and how that will work with the style of type of wine), how pH affects ageability, bottle and barrel stability, etc are all v. important.
- •When to inoculate.We believe in cold soaks for a couple reasons: Letting the fruit break down ahead of primary allows for better phenolic availability during primary, 2 that a short, controlled window of opportunity for ferile yeast and bacterial activity probably leads to better complexity in the finished wine. Academic work suggests that most people's attributed motivations to cold soak ("better color") are basically superstition. At the end of the day practical experience with some perspective wins.
- •Cap management.The "cap" is the floating cake of seeds and skins in a fermenting red wine. It is so well compacted that it floats above the surface of the liquid underneath, which creates opportunities for spoilage and insulates heat. Breaking up the cap with pumpovers in a tank or punch downs in open top fermenters is necessary, but how many per day, length of time, etc. can be of critical importance with some varietal wines and the style goals.
- •When to press.Tannin extracts from skins/seeds over time and in the presence of ethanol, when to end contact determines the end of grape tannin extraction. The ability to judge tannin with a goal 12-30 months out in mind isn't easy. On top of that, there are complications and wrinkles that drive pressing (or not) decisions as well: stuck or laggy ferms, ripeness or botrytis issues, tank space and winemaking logistics, etc. We often have different base goals depending on variety, but each lot is different.