In August we began following the 2010 Barrister Winery Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon from the grape to the glass. The 2010 vintage has been a nail-biter and with grapes being harvested on November 4, Barrister owners Greg Lipsker and Michael White waited until the last possible minute to get as much flavor in the grape as possible. Harvest time has arrived, now the work begins.
The Bacchus Cabernet vines, planted in 1972, are some of the oldest in the state. Wineries like Longshadows, Efeste, Walla Walla Vintners, and Barrister bring in grapes from Sagemoor group (Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Sagemoor Farms). This year, Barrister is brought in 8 tons of Cabernet from Bacchus, nearly twice last year’s amount. The extended hang time in late October allowed the wines to slowly mature and develop in flavor without the additional sugar. Grapes were harvested at 24 brix (sugar level), down from the typical 26+ brix. The result will most likely be wines that are high in flavor without the high alcohol.
When the grapes arrive at Barrister, the process for making wine begins. A group of loyal volunteers and some paid staff move the grapes into a de-stemming and crushing machine. The volunteers remove clumps of dirt, leaves, and any raisin berries they can find. The grapes roll down the chute to be gently crushed. Barrister uses a gentle crush to not overly expose the skin which helps keep the tannin level more smooth. This is a trademark of Barrister wine. Once the grapes are crushed they then cold soak for 24-48 hours before entering fermentation.
Fermentation is the process where the grapes sugar converts to alcohol. Barrister ads four different yeasts during the fermentation process. The yeast is a food for the sugar as it converts to alcohol. Part four of the series will look at the fermentation process, punching down, pressing and moving the wine into various barrels.
Volunteers are the life blood of a small winery. “We could not do what needs to be done during crush without their help,” says Greg Lipsker. The volunteers arrive early and work late into the day on the de-stemming machine. Each volunteer leaves with sticky clothes, purple fingers, and a bottle of their favorite Barrister wine. Volunteers are also a part of bottling, racking, labeling, and more.
The 2010 vintage is in the books and now the grapes are in the talented hands of Greg Lipsker and Michael White to become the wine that we all have come to love. Continue to follow the journey from the grape to the glass as we look at fermentation to the barrel, barrel aging, and finally bottling. Stay tuned, as the 2010 vintage looks to be a special one that you won’t want to miss.
There is a geeky side to grape farming. A little bit of science is blended with hard work to create each artistic glass we drink. As we follow the 2010 Barrister Winery Sagemoor Cabernet Sauvignon from the grape to the glass, we dive into the science inside the grape. In part one of the series (From the Grape to the Glass Pt1 Progress Reports) Greg Lipsker, co-owner and winemaker of Barrister winery, visits the vineyard for a status check on the 2010 fruit. The grapes are undergoing veraison (a process where the green fruit turns purple) and vineyard manager, Derek Way is thinning the shoots to direct more energy to the grape clusters. As harvest nears, Greg makes several trips to Sagemoor, and watches stats online, to monitor the ripening of the fruit and determine the perfect time to harvest.
Part 2 – The Science of Grapes
PH, total acidity, refractometer, and pyrazines; these are not the typical sexy or romantic words you associate with wine, however, they are important terms monitored and used in the process. Sagemoor Vineyard group, north of Pasco, WA, works with 70+ winemakers, including Spokane’s Barrister Winery, in this process. Planted in 1972, the 900 acres along the Columbia River contain some of the oldest vines in the state. General Manager Kent Waliser, and Vineyard Manager Derek Way, provide lab services as the grapes near harvest. The measurements are tracked and made available online so that every winery and winemaker can stay informed on the progress.
During this visit, Greg has his eye three key measurements that will help determine when to harvest the block 9 Cabernet; sugar levels, total acidity, and PH. These three measurements work together and affect the flavor and balance of the wine we enjoy. “In the end it’s all about balance and flavor,” Greg says. 2010 has been unseasonably cool. Way has worked hard to ensure good ripening fruit through aggressive shoot thinning, and cutting out hanging fruit. These efforts allow maximum sunshine on the clusters and drive more energy to the remaining grapes.
While in the vineyard, Greg takes several sugar level readings with a refractometer. The refractometer measures the sugar level (brix) in the grape juice. During fermentation the sugar is converted to alcohol. A grape that is harvested under-ripe can have poor flavor and feel astringent or taste more vegetal. Greg typically harvests his Cabernet Sauvignon at 25 brix. Today’s readings range from 18-20. More sun and more hang time over the next 2-3 weeks will help ripen the grapes to the desired level.
TA (Total Acidity)
Greg collects several clusters of grapes from various sections of the block to be taken back to the lab to measure TA and PH. As grapes ripen, acidity levels drop helping to create a balance in the sweetness and tartness of a wine. These acidity levels also play a large part in balancing the alcohol feel in your mouth. If a wine is high in ABV (alcohol by volume) and low in acidity it can come off feeling hot and disjointed.
At the lab, Horticulture Technician Eddie Garcia presses the collected clusters and uses a sample of the juice to measure the TA. Eddie takes a solution of distilled water and five milliliters of juice and slowly adds sodium hydroxide until the pH meter reads 8.2. Reading the total amount of sodium hydroxide used and multiplying by .15 provides the total acid reading. During this visit TA was still over 1. Greg is looking for this number to be under 1 and preferably in the .80-.89 range.
The final measurement is pH. As the grape ripens, winemakers are looking for the right balance of pH in relation to the acidity. pH can play a role in the longevity of a wine as well as how it feels in the mouth. To get this reading, Ramirez takes a new sample of juice, and uses a pH reader to measure the sample. The pH reading is just over 3. This number will rise to between 3.5 and 3.7 providing the balance that Barrister Winery is looking for in their wine.
Overall, Greg is pleased with how the grapes are progressing. The flavor is nice and the sugar levels are coming along, in spite of the cool year. The 15 day forecast is calling for an extended period of temperatures in the mid and upper 70’s. The grapes love the sun.
How does the grape get into the glass? As you sit and sip the romance that is wine have you ever thought about the process that goes into making it? I’ve heard it said that, “Winemaking is 70% growing the grapes, 10% patience, 10% luck, 10% cleaning the toilets, and a whole lot of drinking beer.” While I know there is more to it than that, what really lies behind the glamour in the glass? This series follows winemaker Greg Lipsker, of Barrister Winery, and the journey of their Bacchus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon…from the grape to the glass.
Part 1 – Progress Reports
Barrister Winery, located in Spokane Washington, contracts with the Sagemoor group for specific rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from the Bacchus Vineyards. Sagemoor is a partnership of four distinct vineyards, Bacchus, Sagemoor, Dionysus and Weinbau consisting of 900 planted acres. The Bacchus and Dionysus vineyards were planted in 1972 and 1973 and are made up of vines that have never frozen to the ground. This age and maturity makes these vineyards some of the most coveted in the state in producing consistently high quality wine. The vineyards are about 10 minutes north of the Tri-Cities along the banks of the Columbia River. Good wine starts with good grapes.
The Sagemoor group was the state’s first, and now the largest, vineyard group not tied to a specific winery. Top wineries from Spokane’s Barrister and Arbor Crest to other key wineries like Chateau St. Michelle, Long Shadows, Columbia Crest, Fidelitas, Vin Du Lac, Woodward Canyon (70 in all) use Sagemoor Group fruit.
Wine making is a year long process. Each spring the vineyard is buzzing with activity as the vines spring to life and pruning begins. As the year progresses, the vineyard manager keeps Greg informed of the progress and tends Barrister’s rows to Greg’s specifications. Once the buds break and the clusters begin to form, Greg, and co-owner Michael White often make the 90 minute journey from Spokane for progress reports.
On this journey Greg meets with the managing director, John Vitalich, general manager, Kent Waliser and vineyard manager, Derek Way to discuss the progress of the Cabernet and talk viticulture strategy for coping with the unseasonably cool year. 2010 has been a very cool year and is being compared to one of the coolest on record (for winemaking). The progress of the grapes is about 10 days behind which could potentially push harvest into a timeframe where cool temperatures are a concern. During Greg’s visit the grapes are going through veraison where they turn from green to purple. The vineyard crew is busy at work thinning shoots, removing sunburned and poor performing berries, to help drive the plant’s energy to the strong clusters.
Greg spends about an hour getting the update before hopping back in his Toyota Prius…off to check on more grapes from another vineyard. Stay tuned…
- Barrister Winery Website – http://www.barristerwinery.com
- Sagemoor Group Website – http://www.sagemoorgroup.com/index.html