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For vines, grapes are a vehicle to spread DNA so that they may perpetuate the species and colonize new locations. Co-evolution of grapes alongside birds and mammals has resulted in a mutually beneficial exchange. Animals receive a nutritious and delicious fruit snack as ‘payment’ for dispersing the digestion-resistant seeds within, and the seeds, effectively transported away from the parent vine, are conveniently deposited in fertilizer after passing through animals’ guts.
Véraison heralds the start of the ripening process, which is brought about by the expression and repression of hundreds of thousands of genes. At this time, berries begin their transformation from hard, green, and bitter, with enamel-stripping acidity, to aromatic, sweet, attractively colored, and pleasantly acidic.
Grapes start to accumulate sugars, proteins, anthocyanins, tannins, and flavor and aroma compounds, and metabolize acids and increase pH. The entire process is brought about by the expression and repression of hundreds of thousands of genes. The changes during this time heavily influence the final quality and composition of the fruit at harvest. Physical changes include:
Source: Cornell University
Blending wine is part art, science, and economics. For this session, we were tasting the 2018 bordeaux varietals and 2019 rhone varietals for bottling in early 2021. All of these wines are very young and will benefit from some time in bottle.
We began with the rhones, which have been in barrel less than a year. The 2019 Grenache that comprises Mistral is fruity, vibrant and juicy. The 2019 Mourvedre will become a Fly Rod Cellars wine that is big, bold and dark, with a little smokiness from a barrel of new oak.
Our Merlot oak experiment resulted in significant differences between barrels. We have three barrels of Merlot: one neutral oak, one new French oak and one new American oak. The American barrel was soft with a hint of characteristic coconut. The French barrel was more smoky, vanilla and almost overpowered the wine. The neutral barrel was fruity and aromatic. All of these will be blended together as the base for Storm Front along with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
We will physically blend these wines just before harvest begins so they have an opportunity to integrate in barrels. We can make additional adjustments prior to bottling after the blends have a chance to further age.
On August 4-5, we went over the mountains to check on how the grapes were growing. Generally, everything is ripening on schedule, with most vineyards starting some level of veraison. Growing Degree Days (GDD) is tracking about the same as last year, a bit cooler in some areas. We discovered a great taco truck and stopped on the way back to refuel with tamales.
What are Growing Degree Days? The following is from WSU: The progression of in-season grapevine development is strongly influenced by air temperature. As such, average heat accumulation is often used to compare regions and vine growing condition. This average heat accumulation is often referred to as Growing Degree Days (GDD). The summation of daily GDD units can be used for a variety of things: comparing one region to another, comparing one season to another, and predicting important stages in vine development (bloom, veraison, and maturity). GDD units can be calculated in °F or °C. Washington State University calculates all GDD in °F, with a base temperature for grapes at 50 °F. Therefore, GDD is the cumulative number of degrees over 50 °F from April 1-October 31.
Through July 31, there were 1,933 growing degree days recorded on the Wahluke Slope. A year ago, it charted 2,023 GDD. During the 2015 vintage, it stood at 2,345 when August began.
At the Benton City station near Red Mountain, there were 2,073 GDD recorded. A year ago, it read 2,081 GDD. In 2015, there were 2,486 GDD.
On Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley, there were 1,960 GDD registered. A year ago, the accumulation stood at 1,961 GDD. During the blistering 2015 season, it was 2,436.
Tacos and Tamales. Driving between vineyards throughout Eastern Washington and walking our rows of vines is hard work. El Guero Tacos Garcia in West Richland sustained us Tuesday afternoon with tasty pork and chicken tacos, and chicken quesadillas. There is some seating, but we pretended to be at a Seahawks game and tailgated. Our drive home on Wednesday included a must stop at the James Beard Award winning Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap. Hurry to get their asparagus tamales before they're out of season, and be sure to pick up frozen tamales to eat at home. As someone said "it takes a lot of Mexican food to make a good wine".