My last 2011 harvest post (or not)

October 22, 2011. That’s today’s date. We should be nearly finished with harvest. Are we? Not even close. But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Recently there has been a lot of attention focused on the sugar levels in the grapes that are still sitting out on the vines. At this point most growers and winemakers are faced with a choice: pick now at lower sugar levels or wait and likely deal with rot or worse.

I love this guys take on the whole alcohol issue. Basically, get over it. There’s nothing wrong with low alcohol wines. You can achieve true ripeness without picking so late that the wines end up being so overdone. That’s a far cry from what’s quoted in this article. Dennis Martin from Fetzer said to The Wine Spectator that they let the Chardonnay grapes sit on the vines because an alcohol level of about 13% was unacceptable. There’s more here, if you’re inclined to read it.

Now they may have to scrap a good portion of those grapes due to mold. Seriously? How can this be happening. Have the wine critics of the world driven winemakers (and consumers) to be overly dependent on high(er) alcohol levels? I’m shocked and disappointed that this is where we’ve ended up. The founding fathers of California’s wine growing regions are likely rolling over in their graves!

Back in the 1850’s, they picked grapes when they had to. They picked grapes when they felt like it was the right time. They didn’t rely on all these other factors that we count on these days. Have some of these things allowed us to craft better wines? Absolutely. But there has to be a limit, right? I think so.

I feel terrible for all those grapes hanging out there on the vines that might just end up rotting. But for many of them, it could have been avoided if we weren’t so damn worried about what Robert Parker or The Wine Spectator or any of the other critics out there thought. Let the public decide what wines are good.

In fact, I’ll bet that a vast majority of regular wine drinkers never even bother to look at the alcohol level stated on the bottle. They probably don’t even know what a ‘standard’ alcohol level for any particular varietal would be. Of course, what’s stated on the bottle isn’t even the real number as there is an acceptable variation of 1.5% if the wine is below 14%.  So, those wines that could have been picked at 12.5% alcohol, could have been labeled at 14% (more than acceptable by CA standards) and likely no one would have ever questioned it. Really.

But instead those grapes sit out there and continue to grow mold. Now let me think about this (this really requires no thought at all), what’s better – no wine or wine with lower alcohol? I’ll bet the French winemakers are laughing at us right now. They are all sitting around their tables filled with excellent food and 13% alcohol wines enjoying life and talking about the Americans that didn’t pick the grapes when they should have. Silly Americans (spoken in French with a French accent, of course).

I just hope that we can get our minds right and start picking grapes before they completely rot and get this harvest in. There’s still time, but they need to move now. I’m really looking forward to the wines that are being produced from this vintage. Long hang times, lower sugar levels and plenty of flavors lead to wines that can likely age very well – something California hasn’t experienced in a very long time.


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