Harvest Time February – April
Harvest time, February/March for white grapes and March/April for red grapes is the best time of year to visit your vineyard. In the picture at left a grape harvester goes up a ramp to dump his box of Chardonnay grapes destined for the Mumms Bodega. For the last seven years Mumms has purchased our Chardonnay grapes to make its famous Champagne. Our La Vida Buena Vineyards’ SELECT LOT owners share in one of our 4.25-acre Chardonnay vineyards. If a Select Lot owner wants to make Chardonnay wine and not sell their grapes to Mumms, he/she can. Each truck load of grapes can represent 10,000 – 12,000 kgs., 22,000 – 26,400 lbs. During harvest time a common site are old trucks lumbering down the highways enroute to Bodegas. Old trucks do the work because financing of new trucks is rare thus it is not uncommon to see a fifty-year-old GMC, Ford or Mack truck hauling grapes.
Each year prior to harvest time Enologists (Winemakers) use a Sucrose Brix Refractometer to measure sugar levels in grapes and convert the sugar factor to what the alcohol level will be. Harvesting too soon could result in an undersirable low alcohol level while conversely harvesting too late could result in a “Hot” wine where the alcohol level is too high. Argentine Wines tend to have more alcohol, around 14% compared to other countries whose wines contain 12% – 13% alcohol. Once the Enologist gives the green light to harvest, special crews will begin the arduous task and complete it in just a few days.
Type Of Barrel – How Long To Use
A barrel is a barrel, right? Wrong! A complete history of the types of wood barrels available today will fill a book. However, if we narrow down the field to oak wine barrels a discussion is manageable. The new 225-liter French oak barrels in the picture at left are expensive, about US$1,250 each in Argentina and maybe a few hundred less in the USA. Many small Bodegas with modest budgets buy used barrels as cheaply as US$150 each. A larger, well financed Bodega may use a new oak barrel up to five times before selling it. The theory is the more times an oak barrel is used its chemistry with wine diminishes reducing its influence on the wine’s ultimate taste.
Harvesting – By Bulk Or By Bin
A dump truck loaded with red grapes arrives at a Bodega to unload its cargo, about 10,000 kgs. to 12,000 kgs. of grapes valued at US$5,000. Bodegas differ how they treat grapes and the quality of treatment is usually based on money. For example the picture above depicting Chardonnay grapes being loaded into bins owned by Mumms shows the best method of transporting grapes where bins are carefully stacked to prevent the bottom grapes from being crushed and spilling their valuable juices. In the picture left a tarp has been placed as a liner for the truck to keep valuable juices from the crushed bottom grapes from escaping. When the truck tilts its bed to unload the grapes and juice slide into a large auger. This method may seem equal to using bins but it is not. A Bodega like Mumms knows crushed and damaged grapes are not desirable and any juices, even if recaptured, will have ozidized and thus lack quality.
Tanks – Take Your Pick
Making wine usually involves the use of tanks (wine can be fermented directly in a barrel) and when it comes to what tank to choose, one’s budget will often dictate the ultimate decision. In the past concrete tanks without epoxy were used and the construction of the tank and its location above or below the earth would determine the quality of wine. Eventually epoxy was applied to concrete tanks for a myriad of reasons all having to do with trying to create a better wine. Today in modern and well financed Bodegas you might find an egg shaped tank made of concrete, for example Michel Rolland’s Argentina Bodega. Most Bodegas make wine in tanks whether they be concrete, stainless steel, or plexiglass, and in large quantities, 5,000 – 10,000 liters. It just isn’t economical to make 100 – 500 liters of wine unless an Enologist wants to experiment with grapes and the process.
Making Wine A Barrel At A Time
There is always an “exception to the rule” and making wine one barrel at a time as depicted in the picture at left is an example. Micro-vinification is considered by many as the Rolls Royce of wine making and can be expensive. You begin with two brand new 225-liter French oak barrels (yes, you can use American oak). The two barrels are filled with whole grapes and left to ferment for about 60 days. During the fermentation period the barrels are routinely rotated. At the end of the 60 days they are drained of their liquid and opened to remove the must (skins, seeds, pulp etc.). The must is presssed for its juice (wine) and blended with the wine that was draiend from the two barrels. Two 225-liter barrels will produce one 225-barrel of fine wine that is left to age in the oak barrel from 12 – 24 months. The results can be outstanding. La Vida Buena has produced Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon using this honored method.
Wine Tasting – The Ultimate Joy
To me the bottom line of vineyards and winemaking is the enjoyment derived from tasting the wine, as my wife Yvonne attests to at left. A wine will be tested (tasted) many time as the wine ages and at the end of the aging process where blending the wine is possible.
In Argentina you can blend up to 15% of the varietal and still use the varietal name. If more than 15% is blended it must be labeled as a “Blend”. A Malbec can be blended with 5% Bonarda wine for color enhancement and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon for structure. Because the two added wines do not exceed 15% the wine can be called “Malbec”. Each year at harvest time it is appropriate to taste the prior years’ wines to make decisions if more aging is needed and possibly blending.
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