With the recent release of our Ridge 2007 California Zinfandel Dusi Ranch Late Harvest,
I find that I am on the receiving end of a lot of interested and engaged questions; both about this wine specifically, and about Late Harvest wines in general. So, I thought I’d try to make available some explanatory details, courtesy of our own Paul Draper and Eric Baugher.
Paul has put together a brief document that roughly outlines the definitions we utilize in categorizing Essence wines, Late-Picked wines, and Late-Harvest wines, and explains some of the winemaking techniques associated with these categories. The text is below:
ESSENCE vs LATE HARVEST vs LATE PICKED
What classifies a wine as an ESSENCE?
- The wine was vinified from grapes that were intentionally left to hang on the vine for an extended period of time. During this added length of time, the grapes concentrate the flavor and sugar by on-the-vine dehydration. Typically the sugar, when picked, exceeds 35oBrix. (Although this is impossible to measure due to the soak out effect of the dehydrated berries.)
- The fermentation typically stops naturally at an alcohol content between 10.5 – 13% v/v with substantial residual sugar remaining (generally 6-10+% w/v). The combination of high alcohol and residual sugar content creates an intolerable living condition for saccharomyces cerevisiae (and most other microbes, including acetobacter) due to osmotic pressure within their cell walls. This allows the wine natural stability from future spoilage while aging.
- Generally this natural stability allows for bottling without filtration, and therefore occasionally one may find sediment in such bottlings.
- The typical attributes for essences are: unctuous ripeness, jam, plum, raisin, candied fruit. The palate tends to be amazingly thick, heavy, viscous-syrup, dense exotic fruit definition, and spicy.
- Sugar is a natural preservative to allow for extended bottle aging. An essence, 30 year old, will still have amazing depth of flavors, color, and richness. The complexity increases as the essence takes on caramel- like flavors as the primary sugar combine into more complex polysaccharides.
What classifies a Late Harvest & Late Picked?
- Both late harvest and late picked wines are vinified from grapes from a particular parcel that could not be picked soon enough. Zinfandel, with its soft skin and clusters exposed to the sun, tend to be sensitive to dehydration effect from heat. If there is a heat spell during the Zinfandel harvest, the sugar content can rise 1/2o Brix per day. If all the Zinfandel blocks are simultaneously experiencing this rapid sugar increase, some blocks inherently will experience a greater sugar increase as they wait to be picked. (there is only so much that can be picked in a day and brought into both wineries to be fermented)
- The distinguishing factors between a Late Picked and Late Harvest are linked to flavor ripeness, richness, and character of the structure. Our general definition for a late picked is the completion of primary fermentation with alcohol reaching 15+% v/v with a trace amount of residual sugar (typically less than 0.5% w/v.) The flavors are pure in zinfandel fruit definition (i.e. raspberry, cherry, boysenberry etc), there generally is not a port-like element nor raisin quality. A late picked wine will lack the sugar coating effect over tannin, thus allowing the wine’s structure to show.
- However, a Late Harvest, reached a higher initial sugar, and as the yeast finished the primary fermentation, the resultant wine retained residual sugar in the range of 1-4% w/v while reaching alcohol levels in the 15+% range. A Late Harvest wine will have a very rich and ripe jam quality with light port-like elements (raisin-prune.) The palate is substantially more coated by viscous sugar covering most of the tannins. Like and essence, a Late Harvest has longevity of aging potential.
- Generally, both wine types will not have the natural wine stability to protect from microbes. Both styles will undergo the same type of cellar treatment as regular wines for protection of the wine as it goes to bottle.
For some specific information about this wine in particular, courtesy of Eric Baugher, please read on!
The zinfandel on this Paso Robles ranch was planted in 1923. It was purchased soon after by Sylvester and Catarina Dusi, who raised three sons there—Guido, Dante, and Benito. When Guido and Dante went to war in 1944, vineyard cultivation was left to their father and young Benito—eleven years old at the time. Beni, as his many friends call him, maintained the vines from then on. Ridge’s long relationship with Beni and the Dusi vineyard began when Dave Bennion—scouting the area in 1967—knocked on the Dusis’ door and asked to buy five tons of grapes.
First Ridge Dusi Ranch
Between the Santa Lucia Range and the Chalone Hills. One quarter mile east of Highway 101.
Well-drained, composed of river rock and light sandy loam.
Zinfandel, planted 1923.
Head trained (no trellis), spur pruned.
Three tons per acre
10 inches (below average)
Warm spring, dry, hot summer and fall
Average brix 25.8°
Natural primary and secondary. Pressed at seven days. 100% submerged cap fermentation;
Air-dried american oak, 16% new, 21% two years old, and 63% three to five years old.
Time in barrel