Monday, April 18, 2005

More on hang time

Deliberately left on the vine? I think not!

An article @ continues the discussion regarding ‘hang time’, that period of time which the wineries request the grapes’ remain on the vine beyond the traditional maturity levels of sugar, acid (titrable acidity, or TA), and pH. Sadly, the online article doesn’t do the subject much justice, and that fact is telegraphed by the photo which accompanies the story. It’s obviously a white grape that either suffered some malady, or was otherwise slated not to be picked during the harvest in question. If it was scheduled to be picked, then the winemaker (or vineyard manager or enologist) wasn’t doing their job properly & should’ve been fired. A better example would have only some dehydration shrivel to act as an illustration of the problem growers want to discuss (the photo included is so severe that no winemaker worth their salt would ever let their grapes get into that condition if at all possible, and certainly never request a grower to put the fruit into such an abysmal state). Indeed, the photo is so bad it acts as a straw-man argument against the grower’s side of the article itself (click here for an enlargement of the photo) .

Gabe Friedman (of also states that the practice is used to raise sugar levels in the fruit, so the wineries can produce high alcohol wines.
This simply isn’t true. Past a level of 24°Brix (aprox. 24% sugar) the winemakers really aren’t looking to increase the sugar content. What they’re looking for is riper tannins and better flavor development. This is precisely why grapes produced in the coastal areas of California continue to be the most sought after. With the amount of heat in the Central Valley the vines never get a chance to fully ripen their tannins and flavors before the sugar skyrockets to the point that they’ll be difficult, if not impossible to ferment fully. You really can’t successfully keep the fruit on the vine anywhere else in California and still have a balanced wine other than the coastal counties. As the climate along the coast allows more acid to remain in the fruit as well, the wines created are more lively and more enjoyable.

Anyway, the Winemakers argue that it’s flavor & tannin maturity that they’re striving for and that these two aspects of fruit ripeness are not addressed by testing for sugar, acidity or pH (the winemakers are right on that point too, laboratory tests currently cannot assess ripeness of flavor). The point of the wineries trying to make wines in this style (bold super-ripe flavors and extraction) merely for the satisfaction of the critics’ palate seems over simplified. Consumers are looking for more flavor and ripeness in their wines (which is one of the reasons that sales of Old World style wines are currently retreating). Wines which appeal to the buyer are obviously what the wineries are looking for.

Growers of course, continue to voice concerns that they are exposed to more risk of foul weather or rot by the extended period. And they may rightly complain of possible dehydration of the crop, which when paid for by the ton, could truly result in reduced revenue for them.
Claims also are made that the wineries are deliberately waiting for dehydration to take place to save money at the time of fruit purchase, only to add water back after the fact at the wineries in question. This seems somewhat disingenuous to me…I don’t know of any winemaker who’s ever looked to add water to his wine if it weren’t absolutely necessary for the fermentation to go to completion (avoiding ‘stuck’, or sweet wines that don’t finish the sugar conversion to alcohol).

As for the issues of damage to the vines due to the longer hang time before harvest, I’ll submit this link to an article from
Wine Business Monthly written by Paul Franson (from this information it doesn’t sound like the experts support the idea that the vines are hurting).

Another way to address the issue of lost revenues is for growers and the wineries to develop some language in their contracts which allows some premiums to be paid on the ton for keeping the fruit hanging longer.


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