Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hard Work for Harvest

We are at about the mid point for the 2009 Harvest here at Pepper Bridge and it has been a lot of hard work. It is easy to see hard work happening all around the winery, the sorting of grapes, the cleaning of bins, and of course the punch downs. What isn't so easy to see is all the hard work that goes into getting the grapes to the winery. This time of year our winemaker is up early in the morning, spending time in the vineyards checking on the grapes. As the grapes ripen, Jean-François methodically pulls samples and tastes the grapes from all of our blocks in both Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyards. It means lots of walking while it is barely light out, but is important work that helps him decide when to harvest particular lots of fruit. Jean-François will walk two rows of a given block, pulling grapes from both sides of the row until he has 100 berries. These sample berries will be taken back to the lab for analysis of their sugar level. While we typically harvest the red varietals at about 25 to 26 Brix, the sugar level is not the only thing that Jean-François considers when deciding whether to harvest. While pulling grapes for samples, he will also be tasting, checking on the flavor of the grapes. With all the sun and heat that we have had this summer in Walla Walla, we don't have to worry about the grapes not having enough sugar. The trick is picking the grapes when the flavors are at the best. Little fluctuations in temperature up or down can either accelerate the ripening, or slow down the process, allowing for more flavor development. So it is of the utmost importance for Jean-François to check on the vineyard daily, keep on top of the weather forecast, and staying patient. Once he decides that a block of grapes are at their best, he calls for the vineyard manager to pick. All of the grapes at Pepper Bridge are hand picked. The picking crews work in small teams, with each picker filling small plastic totes that will then be dumped into a picking bin that is pulled by a tractor. The pickers work amazingly fast, getting through about an acre an hour. For working so fast, they also pick very cleanly, with very few leaves or bad clusters ending up in the bins. Once the grapes have been picked, the bins are loaded onto trailers and trucked to the winery. All of this work happens before 9:00 so that there will be grapes ready and waiting for the wine team to sort and destem first thing in the morning.

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