Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chaine d' Or Cabernet Harvest

We still have grapes to come in from Martin Ranch but this was our last pick up the year. Sunday morning we got started at 7:30 on the 1+ acre of Cabernet Sauvignon at Chaine d'Or. Cabernet grapes have tough skins so they made it through the two rain storms just fine. In fact some shrivel I was starting to see before the rain actually went away after the rain.

We had a small but highly experienced crew. There were just nine of us total, but everyone was a veteran of many picks. We actually were done picking and had all the bins washed by 11:15. Red grapes are easier to see in the canopy and picking goes faster with them than Chardonnay.

Part of why we went so fast was the result of the storms. The picture below might look like we went through and leaf pulled the vines but we did not. The storms removed all the dried lower leafs from the plants exposing the grapes to one last dose of sun for two weeks. Nature really is amazing. Just what the plants needed after moister was direct exposure to the sun to dry out and ripen.

Most harvest crews are paid by the bin. $2 a bin is typical and a good picker can make $80-$100 in 6 hours. I don't like to do that though because I think it makes things more difficult in the field, at the crusher and actually slows things down a great deal. Ultimately I think it lowers wine quality.

By paying by the hour I'm able to get people on the crew to make sure bins are in place and move smoothly to the crush pad. Everyone will also stop and take water and food breaks and pass water bottles around. This makes it less hectic for everyone.

There are three really huge advantages though:

First the crews will work down a row together. One person working each side of the row. This speeds everything up a great deal as you don't have to reach through the wires to get at clusters on the opposite side of the plant. I would guess it goes 50% faster this way. When being paid by the bin, pickers don't like to share plants, it's like sharing money.

Second the pickers are very careful about keeping their bins clean. Everything is sorted out in the field this way and no leafs, bugs, sticks, clippers, water bottles, green cards or other things I see on sorting lines get into the bins. Everyone knows I want clean bins and that's what they do. When being paid by the bin pickers just go so fast the bins get full of leafs and debris.

Finally by paying by the hour, and with an experienced crew, you can do quality control in the field. When paid by the bin, crews will pick everything. Every cluster, good or bad goes in, that's what they get paid by. Volume is important, not quality. You then have to sort out all the bad stuff at the crusher, delaying the grapes and risking warming them up, getting bees, or even getting some rot or spoilage.

Our crew knows what kind of grapes I'm after and they don't pick any clusters that have problems. The picture below is of a vine that's already been picked. You can see all the grapes gone from the bottom of the plant, but the crew has left an unripe secondary cluster still in place. They know that's not a good cluster, and they don't pick it.

The final result is perfect grapes going into the bins. This year we even had Jerry's son checking bins to make sure no bees were in them. If he heard a bee we took the bin off the tractor and shook it until the bee flew off. We are really fanatics now about bees after reading that it's likely bee contamination that causes some people to get headaches and allergic reaction to red wine.

The final results were just under two tons of grapes, 3630 pounds or about 1 3/4 tons per acre. We had been worried before the storms as Brix was reading 25 and the flavors were not ready yet, but the rain helped. Here's a reading on Bin #2

The finally readings were Bin #1 = 23.75 Brix, Bin #2 23.50 Brix. This means the wine should finish at about 13.0 - 13.5% alcohol. You can see the color extraction is already starting in the juice. I added a little bit of yeast food to the bins and then we cleaned them spotless on the insides, covered them and wrapped them in plastic (more bee protection). They will now sit and we wait for fermentation to start.

We'll do 100% native/wild yeast fermentation again on this lot, just like we do with all out wines.

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