The Wine Cyclist

Tag: Urban Farmer

The Master of Merlot

by on Feb.19, 2010, under Wine

Yesterday, I and several of my fellow Portland-area wine bloggers had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with Tom Mackey, the Director of Winemaking at St Fancis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma. We met up at Urban Farmer in downtown Portland, and the blogging crew consisted of me, Tamara at Sip With Me!, Bernard & Eva at PortlandOregonWine.com, and Mary of Vindulge (who took the photo of Tom and me that you see here).

Throughout lunch, we sampled many delicious and nicely priced wines from St. Francis — more on that in a second — and chatted with Tom about winemaking and the wines of St. Francis. Now, there’s no doubt that Tom is incredibly knowledgeable about wines and making them; you don’t stay in the business as long as he has without becoming quite the expert. Tom’s been making wines at St. Francis for about as long as I’ve been alive (and wines at other locations before that). It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that at times.

One of the more interesting things that I learned was that sugar to alcohol conversion rates are a bit higher than I thought. It used to be that you get a conversion rate of about 55%. That means that if your grape must (also known as unfermented wine) starts out at 26% sugar (or 26 Brix), it would ferment to be about 14.3% alcohol. I thought the conversion rate was still 55%. Apparently, with the cultured yeasts in use these days, the conversion rate is closer to 62-65%. So that same 26% sugar must would ferment into a 16.5% wine. This is all assuming that you’re fermenting the wine to complete dryness, but that’s another conversation. Perhaps this is part of the reason we’re seeing so many high alcohol wines these days.

Another discussion that fascinated me was his review of the process he uses to determine when the grapes are ready to harvest. It used to be that you just measured the sugar content, and when that was high enough, the grapes were ready to go. Now, there are several factors that are examined in determining the harvest schedule (taste, of course, but not just of the grape, taste of the skin, taste of the seed, etc. and also various levels of other chemicals in the grape). All these taste factors need to be lined-up with various practical factors as well (e.g., the weather, ability of the winery to process grapes at a certain rate). It’s ever more complicated as time goes on and the art advances.

(continue reading…)

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