Without fail, every vintage brings forth an unforeseen challenge. This year that head-scratcher is the acid levels in our grapes. Sugar levels in vineyards across the peninsula are sky high, usually the indication that grapes are ready to harvest. However, upon a quick taste and further laboratory analysis, most growers and vineyard managers are finding that their fruit remains quite tart and not quite balanced as of yet. It seems as if the warmer daytime weather has spiked the sugar content, but the cooler nights have stalled the acid conversion.
Those who choose to harvest their fruit primarily on high sugar levels will surely pay for it in unbalanced resultant wines. One major problem within our industry is that grape growers are paid mainly on tonnage with a bonus structure for sugar levels (degrees brix). Clearly, this does not tell the whole story when it comes to the quality of fruit that it takes to craft premium wines. Titratable acidity, flavour production, seed and tannin ripeness, colour, berry size, nutrient levels and cleanliness are all key components that a winemaker must take into consideration when evaluating incoming fruit.
Consider the plight of a grower who thins his vineyard to lower tonnage, but their fruit is above average in all the other ripening components at the base sugar level. They get paid the same per tonne as a grower who overcrops underripe fruit at the base sugar level, which is fairly easy to do. I’m of the opinion that we need to better reward the grower in the first scenario. If we could come up with some kind of “ripening coefficient” that takes all the important parameters into consideration, perhaps more growers would be inclined to crop at the lower levels needed to ensure premium wine quality.
Thankfully, while we wait for the acid levels to drop, the grapes keep accumulating sugar and flavours. If we can keep them clean (and that is one nervously typed “If”) the fruit should round out nicely, giving us the ability to craft great wine in 2009.