How Dry Am I?

While the way the grape or the wine tastes (or – often – will taste) is THE driving force behind every decision I make, certain numbers are very helpful in helping to understand what is going on in my wines at any given time.

As I write this, it is coming up on 10 days since the harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon from

Tools of the tasting trade: Siphon and graduated cylinder

Tools of the tasting trade: Siphon, graduated cylinder, and notebook.

my Home Ranch  vineyard. In that time, this 16-ton lot of wine (divided up into 3 separate pick locations and 10 individual fermenting boxes) has cold-soaked for four days (the fermentors were left alone…no punchdowns…so that the native flora on the grape skins could ferment away until they died at above 2 degrees of alcohol, giving over their special bits of complexity), and undergone active primary fermentation for only five days; the amazing little-engine-that-could of the  fungal world – yeast – eating nearly all of 24.5 Brix of sugar in the meantime.

My daily routine consists, in part, of smelling and tasting through each bin at least twice a day because as you can surmise from the numbers above, the wines change dramatically and fast even over the course of a 12-hour period. And it’s not just the flavors that change. Aromatic complexity, mouthfeel, tannin development, length and vitality through the mouth…all of these curves of ripening (and I use that word here in the context of becoming done) are constantly moving, gaining speed, and losing it as well.

I try to taste with as few numbers as possible, using them later for confirmation. So, I’ll go through 6 bins of Home Ranch, Section C and try to determine – based upon mouthfeel, sweetness, and astringency – how much sugar is left and how much more obvious change I am going to see before the wines are completely dry. Looking later at the Brix and temperature readings I get each morning, I’m often amazed at how different the senses are from the science.

It is a testament to the bottomlessness of wine, that even after all this time – ensconced in the comforting confines of my cellar – that while the numbers don’t lie, they don’t necessarily tell you a whole hell of a lot either.


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