The Grapes Decides

Today, almost everyone in the industry aspires to develop a wider range of dry of wines. For some this reflects a wish to promote wine as an export product. To do this, their wines must overcome the reputation of cloying sweetness. But for most vintners the desire is simply to reintroduce traditional regional wines, including more reds, that were familiar until earlier this century.

For smaller wine labels, like Georg Breuer, this resurrection is as much a matter of professional pride as anything. Most of their product is purchased locally, by private collectors, hotels, and restaurants, and they export only a few hundred bottles each year. But for some vintners the export business offers considerable attraction, and the market demands sophisticated wines.

California table grapes harvest

California table grapes harvest

Ultimately, the individual cellar masters determine what style of wine each company produces. Thus, each year of wine reflects not only longstanding regional tastes and traditions but also the conditions for the growing and harvest seasons and the unique and particular concerns of its makers.
The cellar master”s work is determined by the grape. Vines leaf out in April and are ready for harvest in October or November. The best grapes grow in steep mineral-rich hillside areas whose stony soils have better drainage, Hermannn Schmorantz explained. These conditions ensure that the grape doesn”t have too low a sugar content.
The Riesling variety of grape, which produces a wine that ages will, ripens late and thus achieves the most fragrant aroma and desirable acidity. The Silvaner, the other great traditional variety, is harvested slightly earlier; though the wine is pleasant, it has a mild acidity and nose and does not age well. Grapes are best picked in cooler weather, said Schmorantz, and the wines take about six weeks to make. The last harvest, picked at the onset of the winter months, is used to make an “ice wine,” a local favorite.

 

All of Breuer”s grapes are picked by hand–“no machines,” insisted Schmorantz–and carefully selected. Picking requires judgment and experience. Mechanical pickers are indiscriminate, and his concern is not bulk harvest but quality. The government permits as many as 10,000 liters of wine to be produced from the grapes grown on each hectare (2.5 acres) of land, but Breuer restricts itself to 2,000. “High quantity equals low quality,” Schmorantz explained. “The quality of the wine comes from the grape on the hillside, not what is done in the cellar. I am not a magician,” he added.

Grapes should be picked at the right moment. Pickers must be capable of distinguishing suitability for harvest. For a sweet wine, for example, Schmorantz explained that one should look for a berry that is “small–like a raisin–and concentrated, so the wine can be sweet and have good alcohol.” Hands and eyes decide, comparing ripeness, texture, and firmness in ways that no machine can duplicate. Breuer regularly employs about thirty pickers who come to the vineyards each year from the former Eastern block, mostly Poland. They know what to look for and what to do. Their expertise is valued: “The perfect grape means the perfect wine, and choosing, picking the grape, is a special skill.”

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