When to pick grapes: grape sampling, sugar testing and trusting our palates

by on September 26, 2013

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Within view but often unnoticed beyond the grapes gliding across Jordan’s sorting table, the information needed to make one of the most important decisions in winemaking is materializing. That is, of course, the decision of when to pick the grapes, and the means of gathering this information is through vineyard-block sampling.

“What is sampling?” you might ask. Sampling is the collection of a representative number of grape clusters—30 clusters for our strategic method—whose chemical make-up and flavor profile is ideally identical to that of what the actual combined juice of the entire vineyard block would be if we were to harvest it at that time. This snap shot of information provides Winemaker Rob Davis with the tools needed to precisely identify the harvest date that will enable him and the production team to deliver a wine that best represents the vision of Jordan, while at the same time truly expressing the uniqueness of the vintage.

The information is easy to capture, but also easy to mess up, and who wants to make key decisions off of inaccurate data? Whether the chosen strategy is grape sampling, cluster sampling or whole-vine sampling, the plan-of-attack should be the same: organized randomness. I know, that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but trust me: It is nearly impossible for humans to be truly random. If the path of a novice sampler with no instruction was recorded, there would likely be collection of similar looking clusters from the same portion of every vine sampled. This would hardly qualify as random, nor provide any useful information for Rob and the team. The potential greatness of the vintage could be sabotaged. Do you believe me now about the importance of this practice?

Due to the heat-spike from September 7 through September 9, the analytical numbers of sugar density did not correlate with the flavor development of the grapes. Like with all decisions made here at Jordan, it all comes down to the palate. Flavor is paramount.

Watch the above video to learn more.

We’ll be posting photos to flickr and twitter throughout the 2013 harvest.

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