Harvest is what we work for. And now it’s in full swing. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are in the cellar, settled, and the fermentations started. We started slow, a good warm up for the new cellar, with just 750 pounds from the third leaf SB in block 12. The fruit was very ripe, brix 23.8 for those who care about sugar levels, and very clean. Young vines always yield less fruit, but even we were surprised a few days later when the fourth leaf SB in block 11 produced 3000 pounds from less than a half acre. We’re fermenting those two lots separately, very slowly, but we’ll eventually bring them together to produce a delightful wine, with Block 11′s slightly less ripe fruit bringing SB’s characteristic aromatics to merge with fullness on the mid-palate contributed by Block 12. In the cellar, it’s remarkable to taste the emerging wine each day, spritzy and sweet, and complex with yeast as the fermentations get rolling.
John and I walked the red blocks this morning. They handled last night’s rain well. The near perfect weather of the last few weeks left us in good shape. The Merlot skins are giving up plenty of color and their tannins are no longer bitter. The acids are dropping (pH about 3.45), and the seeds are passing through their “black tea” quality on the way to the walnut character that indicates they are fully ripened.
Harvesting the Merlot will start the real work in the cellar. We try to pick and sort on the same day, which means equal time in the vineyard and standing at the sorting table, and then doing chemistries, starting the cold soaks, and cleaning up. It makes for very long day. A few days later, we’ll start the pump-overs, three times a day to extract as much flavor as we can from the skins.
My favorite part about harvest is the picking. Working fast is important. The sugars start to deteriorate the moment the peduncle is cut. Hot days hasten the process. Keeping the fruit cool is the reason many growers in hot regions pick at night, but temperature must be balanced with other factors, especially the morning dew common in southern Maryland. The water dilutes the juice and thus the flavor. We’re lucky at Dodon, since the cellar is never more that a quarter mile from the fruit, allowing us to get it quickly into cooler temperatures.
Despite the pace of picking, time passes gently, calm before the coming frenzy of the cellar. Conversations come and go easily, usually starting with a discussion about the fruit and what we’re seeing, smelling, and tasting. How ripe is it? Is ripeness even on all parts of the bunches? Is there much rachis failure, a sign of some problem in May during bloom. Did any fruit get sun burned, indicating the need for more attention to leafing? Before long, though, we settle in, discussing families and events of the day and interests. New volunteers become part of the team in the course of a few panels. Sometimes we are just being – quiet, reflective, thankful – a moment distant from multitasking and multiple demands. We watch as empty lugs disappear with a steady rhythm that marks our progress, each filling with 30 pounds of fruit and then carried away.
We’re off to a great start.