Winemaking is often described as a delicate balance of art and science. Most wine connoisseurs already know the general process: the grapes are grown, harvested, fermented, aged, bottled, and then finally consumed. While these winemaking basics are pretty much the industry standard, there are a lot of key decisions that need to be made based on each particular vintage and the desired style of the finished product. As Gary Farrell Winery continues to produce small lots of Burgundian-styled, varietally expressive, and regionally distinctive Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, Winemaker Theresa Heredia and Assistant Winemaker Brent McKoy share some of their “artistic” choices that result in wines of great elegance and balance.
Q: What is the most important decision you make in the wine making process?
The most important decision we make is deciding when to pick the fruit. Ultimately, this will determine the quality of the wine. If we pick prematurely, the wine may end up tasting “green,” acidic, and may have aggressive tannins. Even though the philosophy at GFW is to pick on the early side of the ripeness spectrum, our goal is to do so only if the fruit tastes ready.
Q: How do you determine when the fruit is ready?
There are a few key factors that help us determine when the fruit is ready. First, the color and flavor of skins, juice, and seeds. The color of a red varietal should be uniformly red-purple and the juice should be vibrant red-purple. If there are hints of green, it’s under-ripe and hints of brown mean the fruit is over-ripe. For white varietals, the skins should be greenish-yellow, sometimes tipping toward golden yellow and the juice should be vibrant greenish-yellow. Juice that is too green means under-ripe fruit and golden-brown juice means over-ripe fruit. Both red and white grape skins should be crunchy, but mouth-watering as opposed to drying on the tongue. Their juice should taste sweet, concentrated, and tangy, as opposed to watery and super tart. Their seeds should be hardening and turning brown. Super green seeds indicate that the grapes are not phenologically
Another important thing to consider is the total days from bloom to potential harvest date. Less than 100 days could be premature, as 110-120 days is ideal under moderate growing conditions here in Russian River Valley.
Finally, we test the brix, pH, and Titratable Acidity.
Coming up in PART TWO, we will discuss the next step in the winemaking process and what makes the Gary Farrell method unique.