So it’s fruit finding time! I am normally something of a fruit vulture, hanging around vineyards, hoping that something gets dropped or doesn’t get sold, but this year I’m going to try to find something ahead of time. As much fun as the “set up for harvest in 24 hours” game is, I’m going to go about things in hopefully a more professional manner this year. So as I start hunting for Zinfandel and Pinot Noir lots for fall, I find myself thinking about last year’s harvest.
Stop me if you’ve ever heard this one before: to make great wine you need great fruit. Not exactly a revolutionary concept, is it? It’s kinda up there with “the most important part of a steak is the meat”. (I’m waiting to hear that in a steakhouse someday) Well, as a winemaking/enology student, you kinda lose track of this sometimes, because as a winemaker, you have so many tools at your disposal to alter how the wine tastes, many of which I’ve discussed here, that you begin to forget the importance of fruit in the first place.
So let’s flash back to September 2011, shall we? My buddy Alex calls me up to tell me he’s getting married right before I bring in a lot of under-ripe, light-bodied Pinot. (for the non-nerds: light-bodied means thin and soft, like comparing skim milk to full-cream) I decide to make the wine for his wedding, and I ask him what type of wines he likes. The answer: bold, smooth wines, in other words, the opposite of what I have. (for the non-nerds- he likes that full cream I mentioned earlier)
Thinking myself an other-worldly wine-wizard, I began to under-take turning apples into oranges. I take my under-ripe, light-bodied Pinot fruit and nuke it with every extractive method I can think of. I oak it heavily during fermentation with toasted and untoasted oak. I add sulfur mid-fermentation to create the silky compound glycerol. I drain juice from the wine to get more skin contact. I punch down as much as I can. I add extracting enzymes. What did all of this do? My under-ripe light Pinot came out tasting like…
(We’re doing that suspense thing again)
…an under-ripe light Pinot.
So if there’s a lesson to learn here: it’s pretty obvious. Learn who’s boss. The fruit is going to taste the way it is going to taste. All you winemakers just have to deal with it. That’s not to say I didn’t find ways to beef it up, blending with Zinfandel did wonders for it, as did a little post-fermentation oak. However, I think it’s important for me to share with anyone who reads my little blurbs about how wine-makers make wines taste different ways understand one thing:
We winemakers can alter in subtle ways how a wine tastes, and there are even occasions when the wine-maker can make a big affect on the flavor of the wine, but at the end of the day, it’s the fruit who’s boss.