In California, Fall is an exciting time of year for winemakers as it is grape harvest season and a time for new beginnings. Most harvests in the Northern Hemisphere occur in the months of August, September, and October – while harvests in the Southern Hemisphere typically occur in February, March, and April. In California, some early-ripening varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat, and Pinot Noir, may be harvested in late August. On the other hand, some late-ripening varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Syrah, may be harvested in early November. Year to year climate variations will also affect timing of the harvest season, possibly causing a later than usual, or earlier than usual harvest.
The timing of the grape harvest is one of the most important viticulture decisions affecting the winemaking process. The quality of the grapes at harvest establishes the potential quality of the wine early in the winemaking process. Good winemaking practices may help offset some deficiencies in grape quality but cannot fully make up for deficiencies in grape flavor when the harvesting is done too early or too late. As the saying goes, “You can make bad wine from good grapes, but you can’t make good wine from bad grapes”.
So, how is this important harvest timing determined? Viticulturists, or grape growers, will often work with the winemaker and establish their targets for grape sugar, acid, and pH levels, along with goals for different flavor and phenolic components. Grape color, berry size and texture can also be taken into consideration for harvest timing. These targets may vary from varietal to varietal as well as vary to each winemakers’ stylistic choice.
As grapes reach maturity, their sugar level rises, and this sugar has long been the standard for determining harvest timing. Grape sugar measurements are done using a refractometer and are recorded in “Brix” (Bx), with a typical Brix measurement falling between 21oBx and 25oBx at harvest. Warmer climates, such as in California, will obtain higher Brix levels, while cooler climates in Europe may struggle to obtain the minimum ripeness and Brix level. Since during fermentation yeast convert sugar into alcohol, a higher grape or juice Brix level has potential for higher alcohol in the finished wine.
At the same time that sugar levels are rising closer to harvest, acid levels begin to fall. Acid levels in wine are very important as they are the “backbone” of wine, giving it balance and structure, as well as being the key component in food and wine pairing. The major acids in wine are tartaric and malic acids, with minor amounts of citric and succinic acids. Tartaric acid is nearly unique to grapes and has the most impact on wine flavor, so measuring of tartaric acid, known as “TA” (titratable acidity) is a key measurement in grape ripeness. White wines typically have a TA level between 7 g/L to 9 g/L, while red wines typically have a TA level between 6 g/L to 8 g/L.
The pH level in the grapes is also measured, and has somewhat of an inverse relationship to the “TA”. Low pH numbers indicate that there is a high concentration of acids in the grape juice (or wine). So, as the grapes are ripening, sugar levels are rising with acid levels falling, resulting in an increase in the pH level. If the pH level is too high, that may be a sign that the grapes are overripe and may impact the quality of the wine. Most wines will have a pH reading between 3 and 4 on the pH scale. White wines typically have a lower pH and a higher TA, giving it “crispness”, while red wines typically display “roundness” with a higher pH and a lower TA.
Measuring for the targeted grape properties begins with systematic berry sampling as the harvest season approaches – this is a collection of about 100-200 berries from different grape clusters within the varietal block to be harvested. Care must be taken to obtain a truly representative sample from the entire harvest block. Berries should be selected from different rows in the vineyard, sun exposure, location on the vine, and from different areas within the cluster. Sampling usually begins about 3-4 weeks before the anticipated maturity date. As harvest approaches, Brix levels often rise about 2o Bx per week so sampling at regular intervals is important. After also evaluating berry color, size and flavor, the sample is processed so that sugar, acid and pH tests can be performed on the juice. Often, seed ripeness is also evaluated as an indicator of grape maturity. Brown seeds are considered mature while green, un-ripe seeds may impart undesired bitterness in the wine.
Once the targeted grape properties have been reached, the harvest is done quickly and usually during the cool evenings or early mornings so that heat does not encourage the start of early fermentation. Harvesting can be done by hand or mechanical harvesters, both having their pros and cons but both serving to get those ripe grapes from the vineyard into the winery for the winemaking process to begin.
Making the decision to harvest grapes is a critical decision in the winemaking process and is dependent on many factors requiring precise timing. So much more can be written on the process of winemaking after the grape harvest. I encourage you to visit the OCWS Winemaker group at: https://ocws.org/winemakers-activities/ to learn more about winemaking.
- Irene Scott
Wine Education Chair
All OCWS events and activities outlined in The Wine Press specify how to participate and sign up for an event. Unless otherwise noted, please refrain from contacting the article editor directly.
General inquiries can be obtained by phoning the OCWS office at 714.708.1636 or by email to Office@ocws.org. Lynda Edwards (photo above) or Rochelle Randel, our office Administrators, can help you with any question you have or they will know who to contact to take care of you most efficiently. For more detailed Wine Society information, log in to OCWS.org. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.
Anyone who has worked The Courtyard at the OC Fair well knows that TIPS certification is required by the OC Fair & Event Center and has been trained by Rochelle Randel at some point within the past three years.
The OCWS is so fortunate to have a dedicated volunteer in Rochelle, who has trained and certified 1,026 OCWS members to date!
We are proud to announce that the governing body of this certification process has acknowledged
Rochelle’s dedication and commitment and the fact that, by her expert training, has been instrumental in helping to reduce alcohol related incidents and accidents.
Kudos to you, Rochelle, with our heartfelt thanks!
– The 2019 Courtyard Committee
The 2019 OC Fair, now just a fading memory, is still very fresh in the minds and hearts of the 330 OCWS volunteers whose dedication and enthusiasm made this year’s Courtyard the most successful in OCWS history! With over 1,500 shifts worked at The Courtyard this year, and thousands of hours spent behind the scenes before and after the Fair, records were smashed from previous years. The Courtyard grossed the largest revenue in OCWS history.
As a partner to the OC Fair & Event Center, we run both the Commercial and Home Wine Competitions. In return, we are given the opportunity to run The Courtyard during the OC Fair, with derived income paying for both competitions and covering OCWS overhead for the following year. Generous donations from the general public are contributed directly to the OCWS Scholarship Fund.
The success of The Courtyard is due, in no small part, to The Courtyard Committee, the cash verifiers behind the scenes, the seminar presenters, the set up and tear down crews and the Featured Winery program, along with too many other positions and programs to name, and all the OCWS volunteers who manned or maintained The Courtyard in any number of capacities.
It took every one of our volunteers, no matter how great or small the task, to make The Courtyard a success and provide the OCWS with a fabulous financial foundation going into next year.
Thank you to each every one of you who volunteered!
– Fran Gitsham & The 2019 Courtyard Committee
It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of one of the OCWS’s long-time members, Robert Trout, who passed away on the evening of June 26, 2019 at age 88. Bob was many things for the OCWS: a Board Member, President, recipient of the President’s Award, and Commercial Wine Competition Committee member for many years, along with his wife, Marjorie. The Trouts helped develop the Label Competition, and Bob served as Assistant Chairman of Judges under Dennis Esslinger. Ultimately, due to his tremendous dedication and service, he was awarded the designation of President Emeritus. In recent years, many of us knew Bob to be an exceptional opener of the cans of olives to be served to the Commercial Wine Competition judges.
Bob came to the OCWS in what seemed like “eons” ago as a home winemaker. After learning on his own, as many of us have, it also took guidance to make good home wines. The OCWS gave him that guidance which began the road to the many years Bob and Marjorie had with the OCWS.
Bob used his design skills as a Professor of Industrial Technology at California State University at Long Beach to develop and create a special award featuring a very large actual grapevine for our Zinfandel Competition during the 25th Anniversary Commercial Competition. Bob was highly respected by our judges due to his many years with the OCWS and his time working with the judges during the Commercial Wine Competition, including obtaining wines for the Judges Dinner.
An avid bicycle rider, Bob travelled the length of California stopping in many wine regions. Those who knew him well will miss his subtle sense of humor, his friendship, intellect, and love of fine wines which he was always willing to share with people he met along the way.
For Marjorie, his daughter Shannon and her husband, and his grandchildren, he will never truly be gone.
– The OCWS Board of Directors
It’s the most wonderful time of the Year! Well not that time but time to think about running for the OCWS Board of Directors.
Have you thought about getting more involved with the OCWS outside of volunteering for or attending various OCWS‑related events? If you are innovative, open-minded, possess good interpersonal skills, are results oriented and a problem solver, then a position, as a Director of the OCWS just might be right for you.
The beginning of a three-year term of the nine members of the Board of Directors, according to the Bylaws, shall be staggered such that three members’ terms will expire each year. The three vacated Board positions will be filled each year by a vote of the OCWS membership, following the Annual Business Meeting in September.
The overall time commitment for a member of the Board varies, based on assignments and participation. We are moving from having the Board manage some events to having our members run the event with a Board coordinator being the liaison to the Board regarding budgets, event timing and placement.
A candidate should possess some of the following skills and experience as well:
- General knowledge of OCWS events and activities
- Experience as a volunteer in some events
- The ability and time to organize events during the year
- Selected event and budget management skills
- Be a member in good standing
To declare your candidacy for a position on the Board, the candidate must present their Declaration of Candidacy in writing, by mail or via electronic media to the Election Chair no later than fourteen (14) calendar days prior to the scheduled Annual Business Meeting. The last date to declare candidacy for this year’s election is Friday, August 23, 2019.
During the Annual Business Meeting, you will have the opportunity to speak to the membership and present your qualifications. A written Statement of Qualifications must be presented to the Election Committee no later than five (5) calendar days after your Declaration of Candidacy.
If being an OCWS leader interests you, feel free to contact Greg Hagadorn with any questions related to Director Responsibilities, the election process or anything related to the election. I can be reached at 714.388.8803 or at Greg@ocws.org.
– Greg Hagadorn, 2019 Election Chair