Thursday, December 2, 2010

Memoir of a Winery Assistant---Watered Down Fruit

So far not much has happened on the Dobbes Family Estate blog, so I'm gonna give it to you straight. Here's what I've been doing as a winery assistant. If you want to know what goes on behind your wine, this is an inside look. This six-part, photo-story-driven Memoir will show you exactly what happens inside of a winery---from the moment the grapes arrive to when they're racked in barrels. Let's get started.


To make good wine, you need good grapes. Winemaker Joe Dobbes was in constantly communication with Oregon's grape farmers. Since I wasn't eves dropping, I can only guess at what was discussed, but I think they were trying to predict the weather. If rain is predicted and the fruit already has good sugar levels, you want to get the fruit into the winery. Sugar levels are measured in Degrees Brix (I believe that ideal fruit comes in between 23-27 Degrees Brix), and rain instantly dilutes the overall character of the grapes, lowering the Brix. Rain water is carried both inside the grapes themselves and inside the grape bunches. Because sugars are converted to alcohol, low Brix equals low alcohol levels. It's like pouring water into your wine. At Dobbes, there's an entire lab dedicated to tracking Brix levels in all of the vineyards.


Dobbes Family Estate and and Wine By Joe produce a lot of wine (this year we processed 1,950 tons of grapes in all----yeah, that's a lot), and it was cool to watch Joe shuffle the multiple vineyards around, kinda like a Rubik's Cube. Here are some of the things Joe had to work with:

-every vineyard matures at a different speed
-birds destroyed an estimated 1 or 2% of the fruit this year. this made the vineyard managers eager to harvest (more fruit=more money), but harvesting too soon sacrifices quality
-waiting too long results in more attacks from parasites and molds
-Oregon's sun-breaks (short periods of time when it's not raining) are unpredictable, so when they happened, everyone went crazy: fruit arrived all at once or not at all


The 2010 harvest in Oregon was one of the latest in recent history. At the end of this memoir, I'll try to provide a overall picture of quality of the harvest, similar to my covered of the 2009 Harvest in Puglia, Italy. Right now I can tell you that most of the farmers reported a decrease in quantity of 50% in respect to 2009, but that the total amount of fruit processed at Dobbes was nearly the same as last year--- last year being a record breaking year.


In the next part, I'll show you how wine is made.

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