How Wine is Made, Part One: the Vineyard, with Wes Hagen, wm/vm Clos Pepe

Video Transcript
AUDIO START: [0:00:00]

Well, hey, everybody. Welcome to Clos Pepe. My name is Wes Hagen, I'm the vineyard manager and the winemaker here. It is the 24th of June, 2013 and we are going to start a two part series on how wine is made. I've been getting very general questions from the YouTube videos and from other sources, so I'm thinking that people are a little bit hesitant to ask questions about how wine is grown. So, I'm just going to assume from my educational experience that that probably means that we can go back and talk a little bit about more about fundamentals.

So, this week we're going to talk about how the wine is grown, next week we're going to talk about what we do when we take the grapes out of the vineyard and bring them to the winery for production to turn the from fresh fruit into delicious fermented products. So, today we're going to start with the vineyard. Now, the most important thing when you're starting a vineyard is not to grow what you like to drink, but to grow the grapes that actually belong and match the site. So, for instance, if I really liked Cabernet Sauvignon, but I was living in the Santa Rita hills I could love Cabernet all day long, but if I tried to go grow Cabernet in such an amazingly cool climate we would fail, we would make very green, very uninteresting wine.

So, the first thing you need to do is match the site to the varietal. So, cool climate, Pinot Noir, warm climate, Cabernet, Zinfandel, that kind of stuff. So, the next thing, obviously, to grow what belongs more than what you love to drink and to match the site to the varietal, that is absolutely the first thing. Second of all you have to choose a trellis, so a trellis is an artificial tree that lacks shade. In the wild grapes grow up trees, they steal the tree's light, they take that light, they turn it into sugar in the fruit to attract animals to eat the fruit, take the seed to a different part of the forest, go to the bathroom, drop the seed and a new grape pops up, that's the way that grapes work. It's basically a bird feeder.

Now, the trellis is designed to actually give the grapevine the same type of structural support that a vine would need from a tree or a bush, but instead of having lots of other leaves and the trellis is going to be bare and allow as much as possible to allow that vine to move up into the sunlight to absorb as much sunlight as possible, really to become a solar panel for absorbing light, turning that light into energy to grow the vine until the vine is tall enough and then it uses the sunlight and photosynthesis to produce sugar in the fruit.

Irrigation is important, after you've chosen the trellis that suits the anticipated vigor, if the vines are going to be huge and vigorous and grow 10 feet of canes every year you need to split the canopy to get two canopies up so the sun comes in through the middle and through the sides, but if you have low to medium vigor you can use a vertical shoot positioning trellis where you just have one sort of curtain of foliage to absorb the morning light on the east side usually and the afternoon side on the west in the afternoon. So, that trellis is going to do the best possible job of minimizing shade, getting as much sunlight into the canopy as possible.

Now, we talked a little bit about irrigation. Irrigation is important in most places that don't get at least 25 to 30 inches of rainfall throughout the year. The grapevine really started, the European grapevine can find its heritage back in the Transcaucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea as we've discussed before and as a result that area gets about 30 to 35 inches of rainfall a year, so that its natural habitat. So, if you can't get that 25 inches for what they call "dry farming" then we need irrigation and on the Central Coast of California we're basically in a desert, we get about 10 to 12 inches of rainfall a year, only six inches this year, so I was already irrigating this year, believe it or not, in December so the vines would wake back up with a little bit of moisture.

So, irrigation is really important, obviously, the vine needs to get water throughout the season to stay--everyone says, "Well, you've got to stress the vine." Well, that's not really that true. You want to make sure that the vine has all the capacity it needs to absorb light during the growing season to be healthy and near the end of the season a little bit of stress can kind of reduce the water in the berry and concentrate the flavor a little bit, but while a lot of people in the New World focus their viticultural attention on concentrating flavor I'm more in the idea of healthy vines growing in a healthy way produce wines that really represent a time and a place better than if you use a lot of tricks and tropes to sort of concentrate the wine and the make the biggest wine you can.

Now, canopy management is the most important part of growing grapes. Canopy management means we are going to manipulate the area where the grapes are growing to allow as much sun and wind exposure as possible through that canopy without burning the grapes, so we want to pull as many leaves as possible and open up that canopy to sunlight and wind to reduce mildew and rot pressure and to increase flavor because grapes react to sunlight by producing compounds that taste delicious in wine and this is really, really important thing that most people don't know about wine is 90 percent of the quality of the wine is canopy management. If you get a wine that's green and tastes like green bell pepper it was grown in a shaded canopy and it has methoxypyrazines and those methoxypyrazines were never removed by sunlight and the encouragement or terpenes and monoterpenes which smell like high tone fruit, raspberry, blackberry in red wine, it's sort of more a jasmine and white flower character in white wine.

So, getting those flavors in the wine is all about opening up the canopy and making sure by hand when we pull leaves and we tuck the shoots and give that canopy as much openness to that sun and the wind. Also, think about when you're doing a spray, because obviously part of growing grapes either organically or not organically, everyone sprays and when you spray the efficacy of the spray is really going to depend on how much penetration that spray gets into the canopy.

So, if you have four leaf layers between the outside of the canopy and the fruit nothing is going to make it into the interior of the canopy without massive pressure from that spray unit. So, what you want to do is open up the canopy and get those canopy gaps, maybe 60 percent canopy gap, so when you get down on the level of the fruit you can see through to the other side of the--just air on the other side, you can see through the canopy 60 percent of the place. I like about 80 percent canopy gaps on the morning side and 20 to 30 percent canopy gaps on the afternoon side, so if it gets really hot in the afternoon the grapes do have some protection from leaves on that side, so that's sort of the canopy management idea.

So, at the end of the season we start testing the fruit, so the grapes are going to turn from hard and green to soft and either golden in white wine or red for the red grapes for red wine, and then when they turn soft the birds start looking at them we obviously have got to put nets over them, and after we get the nets on we start testing the fruit for sugar, pH, and titratable acidity, and what I like to see in white wine is levels of sugar between 23 and 25, levels of acid between 3.1 and 3.3, and titratable acidity somewhere between 6.5 and 8.5 grams for a nice structure and Chablis style white wine, Chardonnay with lots of acid just the way I like it.

Now, in red wine, Pinot Noir we're looking for harvest chemistry, in sparkling wine between 19 and 21 degrees Brix, about 10 grams of acid, and about 2.9 to 3.0 pH and that's a very, very structured high acid, low ripeness sort of style for making sparkling wine in the méthode champenoise. For our red wines we like to see 23.5, to about 26 degrees Brix, 24.5 to seems to be sort of my sweet spot for my own palate. We prefer to make wines with a little more elegance, a little more transparency, not quite alcohol levels around 14 percent, but we've made wines as high as 15 and as low as 13, so the numbers don't matter, the flavor matters.

So, when we're doing testing, not only are we looking at the numbers, but we're tasting the juice constantly, and when we notice that there's a cherry flavor in the red wine or a kiwi aroma in the Chardonnay things start happening and we start seeing the difference of those reference flavors that we taste in the wine, and when the wine--when the grapes look like they're at the right numbers, the right flavor, and the right acidity we look at the weather and see is there a heat spike coming? Is there rain coming? And we usually don't have to worry about rain, but if there's a heat spike coming we may want to get the grapes out before the heat comes. So, weather plays into it and everything else plays into it, the flavor, the sugar, the acid, the pH which are a little bit different, we can talk about that in the production of wine next week.

So, we've gotten to the point where we've done our testing, we're going to be harvesting our grapes tomorrow, so when we talk next week we're going to be talking a little bit more what happens when we take the fruit out of the vineyard and what we do with the fruit in the winery to produce wine. So, how to make wine part 1, the vineyard, and hope you guys have a good time, ask some questions on the comment section and we'll see you next week on Monday. Thanks so much.

AUDIO END: [0:08:31]
Posted on June 24, 2013 .