The Napa Valley Vintner’s Wine Academy is a significant wine event held annually at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, the heart of California’s wine country.
Having been invited to attend afforded an opportunity to meet a “who’s who” list of wine experts, leaps in learning and of course a reason to taste many exceptional Napa Valley wines.
A highlight of the week was a day spent in a vineyard during the harvesting of grapes. The names of those attending the academy were matched, by random drawing, with a Napa Valley winemaker. I was first out the door, paired with one of the regions recognized winemakers, Kristen Belair of Honig Winery. What would be an ordinary day for her would be a memorable event for me.
The grapes at Honig vineyards teetered between waiting and being ready to pick. It’s a balancing act dependent on the specifics of each vineyard. For instance, one vineyard may get more sunshine than another or the direction in which the vines are planted may afford faster ripening. While one vineyard may be ready, another may be a week behind, and the winemaker must await Mother Nature’s perfection.
So, being in the trenches with a busy winemaker in the midst of harvesting decisions was a true educational experience.
During harvest time, you often hear the word “brix.” To many, it is just another wine word. Brix is the term for the method of measuring “must” weight and thereby potential alcohol, or basically, when the grape reaches a certain sugar level and is ready to harvest. To test for ripeness, single grapes are picked at random throughout the vineyard. The lab at the winery will make the final decision about the picking time.
The remainder of the day was filled with lab work, tank tastings, testing’s and ended with a delightful long, leisurely lunch — a day any wine writer would look forward to experiencing again and again.