Harvest 2011 Notes: The Soak Out

There are only so many times the gang can mop the winery floor; something’s gotta give.

Fortunately, with the beginning of the 2011 Harvest now just an inch and a whisper away, there is in fact a great deal of vineyard activity afoot. Like sampling …

Cluster Samples at East Bench

Put most simply, sampling is pretty much what it sounds like; it involves collecting a lot of grapes from a lot of different places in the vineyards, and testing them to see how they’re developing. Sugar levels (brix) are of course of paramount importance, as are tannin levels and character, and acid levels and development. Sounds pretty straightforward, yes? Keep taking representative samples from representative blocks, and when everything looks good, tastes good, smells good, is good, you harvest. Right?

Not quite. There is of course a whole lot more too it than that. There are in fact a myriad of supplemental factors that have to be taken into consideration when sampling; some simple and straightforward, some mystical and mercurial. Such a mystical thing is the “Soak Out.”
Not familiar? Nor was I.
But fortunately, our winemaking team is comprised of wizards with the knowledge of the ancients, walking amongst us mortals lost in the wheel of Samsara like Bodhisattvas of a long and distant age when benevolence stalked the earth with leaf-eating dinosauric vegetarian grace.
One such a spirit is Muiris Griffin, assistant winemaker at our Lytton Springs Estate.
Explain “Soak Out,” we ask, and Muiris answers; not unlike that Gypsy fortune-teller at the long-abandoned carnival, still dispensing wisdoms for the occasional shadow-stalking mendicant who braves the creaking relics with a quarter deep in pocket …
Explain “Soak Out,” we ask, and Muiris answers …
“Variability in ripeness can be huge with Zinfandel, between vines in a block, clusters on a given vine, and even individual berries on the same cluster. This makes judging ripeness very difficult. To accurately gauge sugar content, we take much larger berry samples from each block than would producers of other varieties. Zinfandel also has a tendency to “soak out” to a higher degree brix (sugar content) than even the larger berry samples indicate. Your berry samples may be reading 24 or 25 degrees brix, but when the block is harvested and crushed to tank, the must can soak out to as much as 2 or 3 degrees brix higher overnight. So a block that is harvested at what we think is 25 degrees brix, with a moderate potential alcohol of about 14.3%, could soak out to 27 or 28 degrees brix, giving a screaming potential alcohol of around 16%. In order to avoid such surprises, we will frequently take large samples of whole clusters from a given block, crush them, and allow them to soak out overnight before running analysis. This is especially important in blocks or vineyards where sugar content can be slightly high. This gives us a more accurate look at the block so that we can harvest at the right moment and maintain moderate alcohol levels.”
What’s wonderful about winemaking at Ridge Vineyards, is that The Ol’ Gray Mare both is, and ain’t, what she used to be …
(Thanks to Muiris for his detailed and insightful commentary, and to Will Thomas, Viticulturist at Lytton Springs, for his wonderful vineyard image.)

Categories: Lytton Springs, Varietals & Blends, Vineyards, Winemaking, Zinfandel

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