Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stuff i didn't know about grapes.

Today was a hugely informative day.

Aren't these red leaves beautiful? But they're bad. The red means the vine has a virus. Yellow is normal for fall, red is bad.

To get really good grapes, careful pruning is essential. At the Von Strasser Winery, we got some one-on-one time with Dave, who showed us the equipment and the vineyard, and gave us the mini-tour overview. i loved what we learned. The pruning process happens once the leaves have all fallen from the vine. For you out there who are happy and informed gardeners, this probably is not new. For me, a semi-happy and largely UNinformed gardener, this was an "Oh. That makes sense." Anyway, our new friend Dave said that for them to get the best grapes, they will trim those little branches back to two offshoots. Otherwise the branches will go all wild and crazy, growing every which way, and pulling too much of the nutrients from the soil. More unpruned growth means less nutrition per branch equals poor quality grape flavor. (There was a lot more but i won't go all Encyclopedia Britannica on ya.)

Dave sent us over to Charles Krug Winery where i had a lovely chat with Ralph. Everybody at Krug loves Dave--he used to work there. Ralph gave me the lowdown on the difference between hillside grapevines and valley grapevines. Seems the difference in how the sun touches the vines makes a difference. There's the constant outpour on the valley plants, and the gentler change of the sun and breezes on the hillside plants. Those differences even in the same state can make quite a change in the fruit--the milder hillside climate yielding a smoother flavor. Now, i'm sure i've butchered Ralph's explanation all to pieces, but that's the basic understanding i came away with.

He also explained ice wines--made places like British Columbia and Washington state, where the vines are left with grapes still on into the freezing temperatures. This causes the whole ice expansion thing that pops the skins of the grapes, and then when the moisture evaporates, a super sweet low-water/high-sugar grape is left for dessert type wines. In California they use some other process involving a naturally forming mold. Ralph started losing me there, my mind being somewhat full by that point in the conversation. i always thought mold was a bad thing, but apparently it can be part of a good process.

So, just to recap: Those pretty red leaves actually mean something bad. Careful pruning means higher quality fruit. The grapes that grow over a certain amount of feet above sea level will taste different than the ones grown in the valley. And freezing your grapes can be a good thing, as can letting them mold.

Some of this made sense, and some was quite the opposite of what i thought should make sense. Some of it has very clear spiritual application, like the whole pruning thing--"I am the vine, you are the branch. If a man remains in me and I in him, you can bear much fruit. Without me you can do nothing." (It's in the book of John, 15th chapter.) Some of the other i'm still pondering. Still not sure about the whole mold thing.

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