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Dick Minnis
December 16, 2016 | Dick Minnis

Newsletter: Winter 2016

The 2016 Grape Harvest: Instead of a separate section for the Vineyard and another for the Winery, we decided it might be interesting to recap the entire growing season from bud break to crush. To appreciate the intricacies of the 2016 Grape Harvest, it is important to understand the areas core terroir as it pertains to climate. The all-inclusive French term “Terroir” is defined as the complete set of local conditions in which a particular wine is produced. These particulars include more than just climate; they also delve into the soils, vineyard orientation, and microclimates of not just individual vineyards but sections within those vineyards. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this newsletter. However; we can review the past year’s weather and reflect on how it affected the 2016 harvest. Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. 

To ripen properly, Vitis Vinefera vines require a minimum of 200 sunny 8 hour days, 104 days with the temperature above 50o F, and at least 23 inches of rainfall for dry farmed grapes. These parameters are easily achieved in the various vineyards of Amador County, which in general has a Mediterranean climate. The varieties that thrive in such a climate will produce quality grapes, and if fermented with care, quality wines. This is why you’ll see lots of southern Rhone, Italian, and Iberian Peninsula grapes grown in our area. There are microclimates due to orientation or elevation where continental varietals from Bordeaux or Burgundy can thrive, but these vineyards are generally exceptions to the rule. 

The single most critical factor in assessing a growing season’s variation from the norm is sunshine. Think of the vine’s canopy as a solar array and the grape cluster as a battery. The vine uses photosynthesis to convert the sun’s energy to sugar which is stored in the grape. As a grape ripens, the acid content decreases, the sugar content increases, and those critical phenolic compounds also ripen but lag the sugar levels. As long as there is sunshine, the chloroplasts in the leaves are stimulated to produce color and sugar. Photosynthesis ceases at sunset, regardless of the ambient temperature. Phenolic ripening, on the other hand, is dependent on temperature not sunshine. An ambient temperature above 50oF marks the minimum to induce phenolic ripening, but that development can falter with temperatures above 100oF. This is particularly true if the vines do not have the chance to cool off at night. The downside to viticulture in a Mediterranean climate is that an excessively warm growing seasons can result in grapes that are fully sugar ripe before they achieve flavor maturity.

The temperature specifics of the 2016 growing season were extremely favorable to the production of quality wine grapes. The specifics that follow are from the Accuweather data for the city of Plymouth at the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley. This is close enough to the vines at Bray Vineyards to give a reasonable approximation for the actual weather. While the spring temperatures fluctuated by wide margins, the last recorded frost was 18 February, well before bud break. 

Grape vines are self-pollinating, and each potential cluster contains hundreds of flowers of which, on average, only 50% set fruit and become berries. Weather can reduce that number and consequently the overall crop tonnage. For the most part it was warmer than normal this spring but later on turned cool and wet. If it is cool and overcast prior to bloom, then floral development can be adversely effected. If cooler during bloom, then progression can be delayed, and a reduced set of fruit results. Finally, rain during bloom can physically inhibit pollination and fertilization. This last condition, referred to as shatter, affected some varieties, but was not widespread or extensive.

Having survived the vagaries of a Sierra Foothill spring, the grapes in our vineyard were to have almost perfect growing conditions for the rest of the year. In addition to the influence on phenolic ripening mentioned earlier, temperature also plays a role in the development of the grape’s acids and sugars. Tartaric and malic acids are produced by the grape as it develops. In warm climates, these acids are lost through the biochemical process of respiration. Therefore, grapes grown in warmer climates have lower acidity than grapes grown in cooler climates. Sugar production is the complete opposite of acid production. The warmer the climate, the higher the sugar content of the grapes. 

The overall summer temperatures were cooler than normal with only a single 3 day period in late July when they hovered around 100oF. This progression of warm but not excessively hot days allowed the grapes to ripen evenly while maintaining an appropriate balance of sugar, acid, and ripe phenolics. It was almost ideal. Our white varietals were harvested in mid to late August which is normal. As mention in the Fall Newsletter, we picked some Sangiovese in early August. These particular grapes were destined for our inaugural sparkling blush wine. Champagne style wines are typically made from grapes with lower sugar and higher acidity levels, hence the early harvest. We are really excited about this wine and it should be ready for release in the spring of 2017. Our harvest of red grapes started in mid-September with Cabernet Sauvignon and continued unabated through the first week in October with the final variety being Black Muscat. Every 2 to 3 days, depending on grape chemistry and equipment availability, another batch of grapes would find their way to the crusher. The final tally during a 94 day period was a harvest of almost 93 tons composing 16 different varietals. 

It was a good year. Yield was down slightly in some varietals owing to the reduced fruit set in the spring, but overall the vines produced typical yields. This is good news for wine lovers because the 2015 tonnage per acre was reduced, most likely as a vine response to the extended drought. Overall in 2016, the vines were happy, and the grapes they produced were of exceptional quality. The resulting wines, when released (the whites in 2017 and most of the reds in 2018), should be superb. Enjoy!

Holiday Sale: In keeping with the Holiday spirit, and in conjunction with the Amador Vintners Association’s “Joy, Peace, and Zin”, we are celebrating with our own seasonally priced special. Purchase a six pack (3 each) of our 2012 Primitivo and 2013 Zinfandel for only $90 (offer is good through December 31st). These two clones of the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski are similar in that both have luscious dark fruit flavors, but are decidedly different with one having stronger spice and clove overtones. Can you tell them apart? Have a little extra fun at your Holiday gathering and serve them both in a blind tasting. Happy Holidays from Bray Vineyards! 

Recipe: Looking for a satisfying winter recipe to pair with that six pack of Zinfandel and Primitivo? Our friend Alison, at cookfoodmostlyplants.blogspot.com, has a delightful and healthy winter combination that should do the trick. Her recommendation is a combination of pasta, braised kale, butter beans and Hazelnuts. The dish is layered with goat cheese and you could even experiment by adding a few sun dried tomatoes and pair it with the Bray Barbera. 


Pasta with Braised Kale, Butter Beans, and Hazelnuts

- 2 very rounded cups whole wheat corkscrew pasta
- Olive oil 
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 bunch green kale, sliced crosswise into thin ribbons
- Slosh of chicken broth 
- 1 can butter beans, rinsed and drained 
- 1/2 - 1 cup diced roasted butternut squash
- 8-9 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced crosswise
- Zest of 1/3 - 1/2 Meyer lemon
- 1-2 oz. hard goat cheese (like Drunken Goat), coarsely grated
- About 10 toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper

- Cook (al dente) the pasta according to directions in a lightly salted pot of water
- In a wide sauté pan heat oil over medium heat. 
- Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for a minute, then stir in the kale. Toss to coat, cover, and cook for about five minutes, stirring from time to time (it's okay if it browns here and there)
- Sprinkle with salt, add a slosh of broth, and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes.
- Add the beans and squash to the kale. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding another slosh of broth when it starts to dry out. Add the sage and lemon zest, stir, and turn off the heat.
- Drain the pasta, toss it with the kale mixture, and sprinkle in the goat cheese. Stir once or twice before serving. Top with freshly ground black pepper and a light scattering of chopped hazelnuts.
- Serves 2-3.

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: Our tasting room is open every day except Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. In December, we are pouring: the ’14 Brayzin Hussy Blonde, the ’15 Verdelho, the ’11 Brayzin Hussy red, the ’13 Barbera, the ’12 Vino Tinto, and the ’07 Petite Sirah/Zinfandel Port. We also have a red table wine available in a refillable one-liter bottle emblazoned with Bray’s tractor logo.


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