Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Perfect Grape
Why not? We have cottage industries searching for the perfect form, the perfect body, the perfect skin…why not the perfect grape? 2000 years ago the Romans certainly enjoyed their wine. 3000 years before that hieroglyphic record shows that the Egyptians certainly enjoyed theirs. So why would a wine lover not try to make the elusive perfect wine, which ultimately led them to searching for the perfect vine, the perfect grape? Certainly today there are those questing for the world’s best wine, the perfect wine; Wine Spectator votes yearly on the world’s best wine. Where, then, is a better place to start than by growing the world’s best grape?
It is a simple process, really. Find the perfect site, preferably with the perfect weather where day/nite temperature splits of 55 to 60 degrees are the norm. Perfectly drained limestone soil and vineyard orientation with southerly facing is a must. Add elevation and steeply sloped hills/ mountains, have adequate rainfall, (but none during grape ripening), and the location is perfectly set. Vigorous rootstock and hardy clonal selection must be perfect for the unforgiving nutrient depleted limestone soil. Spur arrangement and spacing thru yearly ongoing assiduous pruning and thinning allows enough room for each and every cluster, each and every grape, to breathe and bask in the sun’s natural light. Post verasion any cluster touching another should be removed; this ensures maximal airflow and light available to the grape, greatly reducing chances of mildew or mold, and assures even ripening throughout the individual cluster.
Canopy management is essential and if grapes are on trellis, movable guide wires can allow for more shade or sun depending on environmental and climatic conditions. Irrigation if available should be minimal to non-existent once grapes have gone thru verasion. Prior to verasion, testing for and replenishment of the soil’s nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and minerals) is of paramount importance. Prevention of rot or mildew must be undertaken, but in low yield vines, this is a much lesser problem, if at all.
Once grapes begin to ripen, Brix levels, pH, and TA(total acidity) should be checked and followed so comparisons can be made in future years. Lastly, the fun part, daily tasting of grapes, waiting for the perfect flavors ---blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, strawberry, huckleberry, cassis---to mature is the final step for growing the elusive perfect grape. Picking too soon may leave some or many grapes not fully ripened, hence tannic or vegetal…both unpleasant. Full cluster sampling gives the best indication of…is this vine ready or not? Overly ripe fruit can be as bad as underly ripe; there is a perfect time to pick in each microclimate of the vineyard, and failure to pick exactly at that moment will not give one the desired result. Watching intersecting lines of pH and TA is good form, but ultimately, the flavor, and in some cases the bouquet of the grape must be just perfect. Harvest then, rush the grapes to the crush pad, and if you do not have the perfect grape, you will be close enough.
So is there a perfect grape? Well, we here at Cerro Prieto think so, and our history shows that if grapes can receive this kind of individual attention and care, they can qualify as the perfect grape. One thing: there is no such thing as a shortcut in the quest. Too high a tonnage of grapes/acre(greater than 2.5-3.0 T/acre), improper pruning/thinning, inattention to nutrient or water needs, rushing or overly delaying harvest…all can defeat the quest. But if all the above occurs, and quirks of nature don’t intervene, the perfect grape may be elusive… but it is certainly attainable, and better yet, is reproducible.
Then, once the perfect grape is in hand(or rather, in the barrel)…the perfect wine is not far off.