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Dick Minnis
August 1, 2017 | Dick Minnis

Newsletter: Summer 2017

In the Vineyard:That all-inclusive term, “canopy management”, is the primary focus in the early days of summer. Our spring pruning determined the initial framework for growth with the goal of spacing the shoots 6-9 inches apart. However, the vines are genetically programmed to grow, and that growth is not always conducive to producing quality fruit. Grapevines do not form terminal buds like some plants, but will continue to grow as long as there is sufficient heat, soil moisture, and nutrients. For most varietals, a ratio of 14-20 leaves for every cluster of fruit is a general rule of thumb. Growth that exceeds that ratio impedes the vines ability to properly ripen the fruit and can disrupt airflow, increasing the potential for fungal growth. The first step in the process is the mid-spring suckering. This removes shoots from the base of spurs, multiple shoots from the same node, or shoots growing from the trunk which are fruitless but consume precious water. In early summer, the activity centers on removing excessive primary and lateral growth from the sides and tops of the canopy. As the season continues, the focus is on repositioning the remaining canes within the trellis system to optimize both airflow and sunlight for the clusters. Even in a dry summer environment, the vines generate enough moisture through transpiration to foster mildew formation in an improperly ventilated canopy. During mid-summer, canopy management is concerned with leaf removal in and around the cluster zone. The goal is not to completely strip the foliage from around the fruit zone but to provide between 40 and 60 percent exposure of the clusters. Care must be taken because leaves directly above the cluster on the shoot are the primary source of carbohydrates for development. In addition to creating a more favorable micro-climate during the heat of the summer, the sunlight exposure warms the berries, which enhances the sugar content while reducing pH and titratable acidity. At the same time, some varietals have their clusters thinned by removing the first prominent branch on the rachis stem (the central stem of the cluster). These initial branches are referred to as shoulders, and their removal can lower cluster weight by as much as 5%. Additional thinning removes any excess clusters (more than two per shoot), as well as dropping any seconds (late blooming & smaller clusters). This reduction in volume allows for a more even ripening of the fruit left on the vine. If done properly, the vines will be in balance with just enough canopy to provide the nutrients and shade necessary for a quality and perfectly ripened crop.

Around the Winery combined with Mini-Trivia:
This past spring, Bray Vineyards released our first sparkling wine. This 2016 Sangiovese Brut Rose subsequently received the Best of Class Gold Medal for Sparkling Wines at the Amador County Commercial Wine Competition. The obvious trivia question is: “how many ways are there to make Champagne”. The correct answer, particularly if you’re a Francophile, is only one. Champagne is a sparkling wine that can only come from the Champagne Region of France, and it must be made in a very specific manner known as “La Méthode Champenoise”. The process consists of adding the “liqueur de triage” which is a dosage of yeast and sugar to a bottle of already blended dry fermented wine which is then capped. This dosage triggers an additional fermentation which traps the CO2 in the capped bottle. The spent yeast solids are moved to the neck of the bottle by inverting and riddling (or “remuage”) which is simply twisting the bottle by a ¼ turn repeatedly over time. The sediment is partially solidified by dipping the bottle in an ice bath and then disgorged when the cap is removed. The bottle is subsequently topped off with a final dosage known as "liqeuer d' expedition" which will determine the final sweetness level of the champagne. The wine is then corked, caged, and labeled. If a wine is produced in France by this exact same process, but is not done in the Champagne Region, the French call it “Cremant”.
There are three other ways to make sparkling wine other than the Méthode Champenoise. In the “Transfer Method”, the process is identical up to remuage where the wine is emptied from the bottle into a pressurized tank. The sediment removal and dosage steps are then done in bulk (with less labor) before being recorked, caged and labeled. The finished product is fairly indistinguishable (much to the chagrin of the French) from the traditional method. In the “Charmat” (or tank) Method, both the first and second fermentation are done in a pressurized tank. This process is fast, cheap, and not very labor intensive, but the flavor from sitting on the lees is somewhat less apparent. The last method is the cheapest method, and is through direct injection of the carbon dioxide into the wine. The same process used to add carbonation to a soda. Direct injection produces wines with large bubbles that dissipate quickly.

The Méthode Champenoise for historical reasons allows for seven different grape varietals in champagne, but modern champagne houses typically use only three: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The other seldom use grapes are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petite Meslier, and Arbane. Champagne can be made with various levels of residual sugar as determined by the sugar concentration of the “liqeuer d' expedition”, but producers quickly learned that consumers preferences varied widely. Over 90% of modern production is typically labeled as Brut which allows for a residual sugar (RS) level of 12 g/L which is equivalent to 1.2%. For reference, White Zinfandel is usually bottled with a residual sugar level of between 20-30g/L or 2.0 to 3.0% RS.

The terminology and residual sugar levels allowed for other types of champagne are listed below:
- Brut nature – bone dry / 0-3g/L RS
- Extra Brut – not detectable 0-6 g/L RS 
- Brut 0-12g/L RS
- Extra Sec (extra dry) 12-17g/L RS
- Sec (dry) 17-32 g/L RS
- Demi-Sec (medium dry) 32-50 g/L RS
- Doux (sweet) 50g/L

Remember, if you have a question that is looking for an answer, then E-mail it tonewsletter@brayvineyards.com

Up-coming Events: It’s not too soon to mark your calendar for the fall “Big Crush” which will be celebrated on October 7-8th this year. The specific details of this event will be provided in our Fall Newsletter.

Website: Brayvineyards.com is the place to go for additional information on the winery, upcoming events, and past issues of this newsletter. It is also the online store for our current inventory of direct shipment wines, the available library wines, Bray logo clothing, and other winery paraphernalia. If you can’t visit us in beautiful Amador County, then perusing the website is the next best thing.

Tasting Room: The cosmetic overhaul of the Bray Tasting Room is now complete with a down home, but stylish décor that we think you’ll like. New art, new glasses, a new floor, and new bottle racks were part of the upgrades, but we’ve changed more than just our look. Several of the wines now available for tasting are new releases; including the Sangiovese-Rose Brut Sparkling Wine, the ’16 Brayzin Hussy Blond, the ’14 Brayzin Hussy Red, and the ’16 Barbera Rosato. Also, currently available for tasting, but selling fast, are the ’16 Verdelho (Double Gold, Best of Class Amador County Fair), the ’12 Sangiovese La Dama Oscura, the ‘12 Double Barrel Barbera, and the ’07 Petite Sirah / Zinfandel Port. 
Additionally, we are excited to offer you the ability to taste “Fate Wines” on weekends. Fate is the label of Thomas Allen, a sommelier at Taste Restaurant and our very own assistant GM. Thomas makes his wines under a custom crush arrangement, and uses his expertise to bring a different style to the high quality grapes grown at Bray Vineyards. We think you’ll enjoy the opportunity to sample two different labels under one roof. Give us a visit and let us know what you think!


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