Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Numbers, numbers, numbers

Making wine is a funny old thing. Of course there’s plenty to do in the vineyard during the year, plenty at harvest and you can pretty much guess what you need – secateurs, buckets, tanks etc. etc. But the one thing that I would have given my right arm for over the past 24 hours was a calculator! Now, mobile phones may be wonderful at communicating, taking photos, making tea and organising your life – but they’re still not great calculators! So there we were last night, stubbing furiously at our respective phones, calculating endless permutations about alcohol levels, comparing figures and generally getting confused. At least, I was…

But it was well compensated by sitting around a table with some good friends, eating freshly roasted chestnuts and enjoying a very nice bottle of Kolaric Sipon 2007 and then a bottle of Simon Maye Syrah 2004 – a pretty impressive Swiss wine.

All the talk is about numbers… what sugar levels, how much sulphur, what yield, how much are you paying for grapes, how much are you getting paid? The exchange of information is part and parcel of the harvest and essential for getting an overall perspective of the vintage. But none of it is helped by the various methods of expressing things – are we talking Oechsle, Brix, potential alcohol….. what did we start with and what do we want to end up with..?

For anyone interested in the figures, here goes… 1.7kg of sugar added to 100L of must will give another 1% of alcohol. If you’re measuring sugar in Oechsle (which we are), your ideal target is actually about 89-95. Our Sipon was around 80-85 (so potential for about 11% alcohol). Therefore we needed about 2kg of sugar per 100L of wine to bring the potential alcohol to around 12%-12.5%. Of course, this is a rough guide and assumes absolutely all the sugar is fermented – but normally about 2-3g per Litre is left. It also depends on the yeasts and how they “process” the sugar. And then of course, your overall volume increases if you chaptalise – 1kg of dissolved sugar has a volume of 0.63 Litres. So you can see why the calculators were out!

Initially when I arrived, I was very worried by the stories about the quality of the grapes. Having been here and seen many vineyards, I think there is some pretty good stuff out there. In many ways, I have learnt much, much more by being involved in a very challenging vintage. Of course, things like chaptalisation aren’t ideal – but they are occasionally necessary – and in this particular vintage a universal necessity, not just a “lazy” backroom technique - and it’s better to find out about them now and how to do them sensitively and properly.

As an aside – and an interesting view on the “natural” wine debate – you should look at Paul Draper’s views (Ridge winery) on Alice Feiring’s Blog:


And of course, there are some interesting side effects to a challenging vintage. Less sulphur was required this year as the temperatures are lower and therefore it isn’t as necessary to “protect” the grapes as much. In fact we ended up only using the 10ppm that Paul Draper refers to.

Finally, I received an email from an Italian producer who manages to put a positive spin on their vintage wonderfully:

"A summer rainier than usual and an ideal even if fickle September led us through this harvest. Wines will have more acidity and less alcohol with a solid aromatic base. They will be well balanced and their development will bring pleasant surprises in the future."

Stablisation and fermentation tomorrow – hopefully no calculators required.

No comments:

Post a Comment