Picking for Perfection – Part I
By Charles Williams (Winemaker)
One of the biggest considerations towards wine style, and contributors to grape and wine quality, is the moment at which you decide to harvest the grapes. When I think about the best wines I have ever tasted from all over the world one keyword always comes to mind: COMPLEXITY.
For a wine to be truly complex the journey starts in the vineyard, and for the winemaking team one of the most crucial decisions is to harvest the berries at the pinnacle of their complexity. Leading to the question: “What exactly is complexity?”
If you pick a berry slightly unripe, many of the elements to make a perfect berry will already be identifiable. The shortfall of these berries is that integration and complexity are still missing. The sugar concentration in these berries will be slightly too low to balance out the acidity still present in the grapes. The tannins will not be quite ripe and as a result the grape skin and seeds will still be slightly astringent. Also the aromas in the berry will be dominated only by fresh fruit aromas, not complimented by the spicy and mature fruit spectrums. These berries, although having the potential to be perfect, are slightly one dimensional in an unripe manner.
When a berry reaches perfect maturity all its elements align in a very complex way, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The sugar and acid are perfectly balanced, creating that perfect synergy between body and freshness. Further the tannins will be soft and fine, complementing the structure and aromas of the fruit. The aromas will be complex: fresh fruit (think red berries like cranberry, mulberries), mature fruit (blackberry, plum) and spicy elements will be present at one time.
Picking the berry too late will result in the berry losing its freshness and liveliness. The sugar will have no counterbalance and will be overpowering and one dimensional. Aromas will be dominated only by mature fruit and cooked, jammy aromas, thus rendering the berry less complex than before.
To determine this complexity is very easy – spend lots of time in the vineyards with your vines and berries, get to know each individual area and monitor its development. The final decision on when to harvest ALWAYS has to be on taste.