Raven's Call

Raven's Call
Haida Raven

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ice Wine (Eiswein) Anyone?

Brrrr... It's very cold here (compared to any weather we normally get, especially in November. Ice wine can be produced when wine grapes are left to hang and are frozen down to 19 degrees F (Canadian specs). The ice is (essentially) pure water, so if pressed while frozen, the resulting must (juice) is highly concentrated for sugar (and other flavorful constituents).
A couple months ago I wondered how many years, here in Puyallup, we have passed through 19 degrees F, such that the temperature would be correct for pressing ice wines. I found that for the nearby WSU Puyallup Ag weather station readings, every year back for 6 or 8 years there was a cold snap where temperatures were lower than 19 F. Thus, it would have been possible to press ice wine if one still had grapes hanging. Unfortunately, for the prior 4 or 5 years before that, the minimum daily temperatures never got below 20 F, so a saved crop of grapes would have been wasted. (Well, I guess one could press a "late harvest" in late January, after giving up on ice wine).
But no problem this year. The data below shows our recent cold snap.

It should be noted that it is rare, here,  for the daily high not to get above freezing. In fact, for the official SeaTac weather records, the daytime high has never before been below freezing in November. (Global warming? Really?)
Two particular points to note above. First, the cold weather on the night of 22-23-Nov was exacerbated by strong gusty winds out of the north. Blowing snow left rare snowdrifts here. Then it got still and really cold. The 9.8 degrees recorded at the WSU Puyallup station was about as low as I have seen in their records, and it was actually colder here. It was 7.7 F at 3:30 AM.
So I have left the few grape clusters on my Zweigeltrebe, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, and thought I would see how much the sugar was concentrated in frozen berries.
Snowy Frozen Pinot Noir
 The Vineyard is all pruned for next year.
All three of the remaining grape varietals had been stuck at about 15-16 Brix since early November. I decided to do a test pressing on the frozen grapes. Using a chilled garlic press, I was able to squeeze about one tiny drop out of each frozen berry I tested (air temp wa 21.9 degrees F - a bit high but what I had when it was light). All 3 varieties now produced juice with 24 or 26 Brix. Still not high enough to meet Canadian ice wine standards (min 35 Brix), but certainly better than 15. Still, I could have pressed all my remaining grapes and probably not gotten a teaspoon of juice.
On a more favorable front, the Madeleine Angevine, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier wines were all fined and placed in the cool back porch to clear.
2010 Madeleine Angevine, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier
I lightly oaked the Mad Ang with medium toast French oak chips for about 2 weeks, as it was still pretty acidic (0.85 TTA). I decided to medium oak the Sav Blanc with some Hungarian oak cubes I had. I'm going to try 3 weeks on that. No oak for the Viognier.
Our current "wine cellar" (aka back porch) is completely full of bottles, so after these 3 batches are bottled (about 90 bottles) I will really need additional storage space. I decided to build a wine rack that fit the maximum number of bottles in exactly the space I have available. First I built a small pine prototype to fit the largest diameter Burgundy bottles as tightly as practical (2mm clearance between...).

After getting the spacings figured out, I used relatively inexpensive western maple (bigleaf) to build a full-width, but limited height version. The western maple turned out to be too soft.
So for the full-sized version I used Eastern "rock" maple. Here is the full-sized frame, test fit into it's allotted space. With a bit of trimming here and there from shelves, etc. it fits like a glove. It will hold 180 bottles once all the shelves are completed. Just need to finish 16 more shelves...

But I did load up the bottom shelves with my newly bottled Mad Ang just to make sure they all fit.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

End of the season

Dark and rainy in the morning, dark and rainy in the evening. Definitely the end of the 2010 grape season. The Madeleine Angevine has been racked twice, fined with Kielesol and chitosan, and I decided to oak it with medium toast French Oak. It has cleared very nicely.
5 Gallons of Madeleine Angevine

We had a very heavy rain last night and it pretty well stripped all the leaves off all the grapevines.
Raven's Call Vineyard Nov-2020
 I am leaving the few clusters on the individual plants that did not have enough fruit to pick and ferment. I'm trying to better understand how long the fruit can hang in this cold rainy climate before it splits and rots, or if it will still get higher sugar content. The Pinot Blanc started splitting in the rain, even though the Brix is not that high (individual berries today tested at about 14 Brix..).
Pinot Blanc Nov-10
The grafted Zweigelt-rebe also seems to have thin skins - many berries are splitting.

The grape that is surprising me is the Pinot Noir. They just keep hanging in there - no splitting, no rot. They are beautiful.
Pinot Noir 07-Nov-10
 Pinot Noir
 Pinot Noir
The problem is... they are not developing any higher sugar content. The Brix is still testing right around 17. Not great, but apparently with temperatures in the 50 to 60's for highs, they are simply not going to do any better. But they sure are pretty.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Regent Harvest and Crush

2010 Regent Harvest at Raven's Call Vineyard - 23 pounds of grapes.
Although we've had very cool weather, so not much ripening of the Regent grapes here at Raven's Call Vineyard, it has also been rainy, and more predicted, with continuing cool temperatures. There do not seem to be any berries splitting yet, even though Brix by refractometer shows 12-15% sugar. Close inspection of the vineyard shows some clusters have fallen off, a few berries are shriveling or rotting (not many, though), and the birds are getting a few where they found some accessible under the netting. So time harvest, I decided.
Regent crop on best 3rd-year plants
 A nice Regent cluster.
 My field assitant harvesting.
 Total crop - 23 lbs off of about 20 plants vigorous enough to fruit.
 Mysterious "floating-grapes" photo.
 Cleaning clusters and crushing.
 Primary fermenter - just under 2 gallons must.
The Brix, by refractometer, on the free-run juice only tests at 14%, so I chapalitized up to 23. I also warmed the must up to about 80 degrees F to get the fermentation off to a better start (since low 80s are recommended for reds, and my batch is too small to generate enough warmth on it's own to keep the temperature up there). Sure smells good once the fermentation kicked in!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

COOL... literally

2010 Grape Growing Degree Days

It’s been a pretty dismal grape growing season here in Puget Sound, and apparently all across the state (and up and down the west coast, so I hear). This chart from the WSU Viticulture site shows that 2010 is about as bad as it has ever been (in 18 years of recorded history, of course..). (The WSU-IAREC headquarters are in Prosser, WA.)
Remember that Puget Sound AVA is pretty pitiful, historically, compared to eastern WA AVAs.

And then (at least at Mt. Vernon, which is the reported reference station for Puget Sound on the WSU site), this year has been equally below the long-term average.

But when I download the raw data from the station close to our vineyard (WSU Puyallup station – only 0.90 miles from our place), and compare to Mt. Vernon, it shows we are doing considerably better here than Mt. Vernon.

We are just below 1,600 GDD, and not likely to gain too much more. Unfortunately I have not yet found where to download the long-term average for the WSU Puyallup station, so cannot say specifically how this year compares with average at this location, but I am certain it is proportionally as bad as other locations have been.
Still, after all the charts, it's good to remember that it's all about the fruit:
Pinot noir at Raven's Call Vineyard


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Madeleine Angevine Crushed!

Time to harvest.
Yes, Mad Ang was picked and crushed. I have been chagrined at how rapidly the fruit quality is declining. While they were nicely cropped:
Madeleine Angevine 2010 Crop
 as shown below, with the recent rains, many berries were splitting, then they rapidly rotted. Even though last year I vowed to let them hang longer to get the sugar content up (last year we hit 16.5 Brix),  I decided I had better pick if I was going to salvage anything.
About 10 to 20% of the fruit is rotting on the vine.
 First we picked the 8 vigorous plants that had no cluster thinning. The yield was 24 pounds of fruit. For 3rd year crop, 3 pounds per plant is not bad. Even steady-state mature plants should probably only give about 4 pounds per plant, given what I've read.
24 pounds Mad Ang from 8 unthinned 3-year plants
 Then we picked 12 more plants of similar vigor, but for which I thinned each shoot to just the one main cluster per shoot. This yielded 28 pounds (shown in opening photo), or 2.3 pounds per plant. Logically, less. However, I could detect no difference in size, amount of rot, nor sugar content. Both these first two batches were crushed and measured separately, and they were the same Brix... 16.5, just like last year.  With the 17 pounds more from the straggler plants, the total 2010 harvest was 69 pounds. The rotten berries were tediously picked out by hand, then we crushed.
The crush
Not having a de-stemmer, we did it the old-fashioned way, by hand.
Stems on left, crush in center, must on left.
 The must was left on the skins overnight, then pressed the next morning. This supposedly give enzymes a chance to break down some of the cells, releasing more juice on the crush, but without giving time for bitter components to come of of the skins. The newly-built press worked like a charm! Guess building a prototype was a worthwhile effort.
The press
 All done - must ready to ferment on the right. Just over 4 gallons. Pressed skins on the left go on the compost pile.
4 gallons 2010 Madeleine Angevine must ready to ferment
 The vineyard looks sad without fruits.
Naked vineyard.
 But the Regents are still hanging in there. Should be a couple more weeks before we pick them. They show no signs of splitting, even though the sugar content has been nearly as high as the Mad Ang. Must have thicker skins.
 The Mad Ang must was pretty high in acid, and low in sugar content. It was chaptalized up to 21.5 Brix, but no adjustment to acidity. We'll see.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting close to harvest time!

Amazing how quickly the grapes are progressing. In just the last week, sugar levels have risen quite a bit, and the birds have found the Madeleine Angevine grapes (they are mostly about 15 Brix now). Last year (supposedly a far warmer summer with more degree days) I picked these the 27th of Sep, and they had 16.5 Brix, so these are pretty darn close to that.
Bird and rain damage
After noting the bird damage I decided we better cover all of them with bird netting.
The netted Madeleine Angevine Crop
The Regent grapes are turning rapidly, but are about a week behind the Mad Ang. But much more attractive!
 Regent grape crop
Regent Grapes
It's pretty easy to see why the varieties selected by WSU at Mt. Vernon for this area are preferred. Compare the two above with the Pinot noir from Willamette Valley.
Pinot noir 
Pinot blanc 
 Several of the grafted varieties that I have in test plantings had fruit this year.
Zweigelt rebe (a red, obviously)
 Pinot noir 71 (about the same as Pinot noir)
 Pinot noir Precoce (very much earlier - birds have really decimated this bunch)
 If the Madeleine Angevines keep splitting in the rain, I may decide to harvest them soon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Turn, turn, turn...

Wow - the grapes are moving along quickly. The Regents in particular are turning color fast.
Regent Grapes
But the real beauties are the Madeleine Angevines:
The row shown above had no cluster thinning. Compare to the row I thinned to one cluster per shoot:
I intend to harvest and weigh separately to determine yield, and measure Brix to see if thinning produced more advanced ripening. I don't know if I'll have enough to vint separately to determine quality.
Even the Pinot noir are starting to show some color:
But they are clearly weeks behind the Regent. My grafted Pinot noir 77 clone is similar:
But the grafted clone Pinot noir Precoce is clearly way ahead of the others:

and the Pinot Blanc, while beautiful clusters, don't look very ripe..

I tested a few Mad Ang and Regent berries today and they were in the 12 to 15 Brix range. Need a couple more weeks!