Oh boy, oh boy, we are right in the midst of my newest favorite time of the year: harvesting season!  We might not have many vines that are producing grape bunches right now, but Mom and I have been practicing checking for all the signs of ripeness.  With all of this practice, we are going to be top dogs at deciding when to pick next year!

There are a few ways you can tell if wine grapes are ready to pick just by looking at them:

  • The stems have turned brown.
  • The grapes have an even color appropriate for that variety.
  • The grapes are completely filled out and plump (and really easy to pull from their bunch).

The best way to tell if they are ready, though is by taste:

  • No part of the grape is bitter, even the skin.
  • The seeds are easy to chew – and have also turned brown!
  • Varietal characteristics can be identified if the taster is highly skilled.

It’s not all about looks and taste, though.  There are two very important factors for winemakers to consider: sugar and acid levels! You learned in my first blog about the refractometer used to measure the sweetness of grapes.  Testing the acidity levels of grapes is just as easy:  we crush the grapes and then measure the acidity of the juice using a pH scale.

Once the grapes are at the just right stage of ripening, they need to be picked as soon as possible.  It is always better to pick on a nice sunny day when the sugar levels will be highest, but it is most important that the grapes are harvested before they are damaged by animals eating them or heavy rain and winds.

All of our grapes will ripen at a different pace- depending on their type and growing conditions – so we are going to need to keep a very close watch on all of our grapes when we have our first harvest next year!

Every evening, I get to go on one of my favorite adventures.  Mom and I (and sometimes Dad) go walking across our property and through the vineyards.  There are all sorts of delicious smells in the air from the creatures that I share Six Penny Farm with, and we also get to check on all of our growing vines.  I love the golden hue they take on in the dusk hours.

Often when I hear my mom and dad talked about our grape vines, I hear them use the words vinifera and hybrid.  It actually took me a while to figure out that they were even talking about grapes.  After some careful deducing, I determined that vinifera is actually a shortened version of the subspecies vitis vinifera, or the grapevines native to Europe. Vinifera are the most well-known of the grapes, and the cultivars (or varieties) possess the names we commonly see on varietal wines, such as cabernet franc, viognier, and petit verdot.  Sometimes the different grape cultivars in the vinifera family intermingle with each other creating a cross. Two common examples of this are cabernet sauvignon (with a parentage of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc) and chardonnay (with a parentage of pinot noir and gouais blanc).

There are numerous less commonly known subspecies in the vitis species.  Many of these are native to America and have varying degrees of usefulness in the wine industry.  They are sometimes used in hybrid propagation because of qualities such as pest resistance and cold hardiness.  Vitis muscadinia produces muscadine grapes which have earned their name in port-style and dessert-style wines.  The vines, however, are not used to create new cultivars with any other members of the vitis family because muscadinia grapes have 40 chromosomes while the rest of the vitis grapes have 38.  Thus, even though these vines are extremely pest-resistant, they are of no use in hybrid creation as they produce infertile cultivars.   Vitis labrusca is most well-known for its concord and niagara grapes, and is often characterized by its foxy musk.  Extremely cold-hardy, this subspecies is used to create hybrids for the northern regions of the United States.  Vitis riparia grows naturally over almost all of the eastern portion of North America, and it doesn’t have the foxy quality of v. labrusca. Because of the appealing taste and abundant clusters, it is often used in juice and jam making.  Vitis aestivalis is most well-known for the Norton grape.  The grapes from this vine have vinifera like qualities and the vines are extremely hardy.  Vitis mustangensis is the least useful of the subspecies.  It produces grapes that are very acidic and bitter in taste.  This quality is not appealing to the taste-buds and the high acidity can cause discomfort to the skin if handled.

Some of the subspecies (notably v. labrusca, v. riparia, and v. aestivalis) are mixed with vinifera vines to propagate new types of grapes that are more pest-resistant and cold resilient than the traditional vinifera grapes.  Hybrids are especially useful in producing European quality wines here in the United States.  Two hybrids that we are currently growing here at Brix & Columns Vineyards are chambourcin and vidal blanc.  The origins of chambourcin are not known, but vidal blanc was created from ugni blanc (a vinifera cultivar) and Rayon d’Or (another hybrid) in the 1930s

Figuring all of this out sure helps me to know more as I am walking through our vineyards.  My wine knowledge is growing nearly as fast as our vines, and I am so happy to share it all with everyone reading my blog.  If anyone has any questions, comment below and I will do my best to answer them.


Welcome to my blog!  My name is Winston and you may see me hanging out here at Brix and Columns as I am the winery dog. They even put me on the back of the bottle!  I know a lot of you have the same questions about me, so I’d like to start off telling a little about me:  I am not a Holstein calf or a Dalmatian or even a miniature horse (although I weigh more than one!!)  I’m a harlequin Great Dane (harlequin just means I have a black and white coat), I’m 7 years old, and I weigh 140 lbs.  I am very friendly and love to be petted, but I’m almost guaranteed to leave your side when I catch sight of my mom.  I love her best and I am a master at being her shadow!  Oh, yes!  There’s the whole “you can’t feed me” rule.  I love people food, and I am really great at asking for it, but Mom says it is bad for my health and manners.  Anyways, a few months ago, my people parents opened their vineyard; they named it Brix & Columns Vineyards.  Makes sense to me!  Lots of bricks and lots of columns- what else would they name it?

Well, turns out I was wrong and I HATE being wrong!  It’s a good thing that I spend so much time in the tasting room because I am learning so much, and now, through this blog, I have a way to share it all with you.  One of the very first pieces of information that made my ears perk up was when a customer asked the tasting room attendant why we chose a different spelling for the word “bricks”.

What?!  Who knew there were two types of bricks?  Turns out there are: bricks and Brix.  Brix (°Bx) is the unit of measurement used to indicate the sweetness of grapes.  Wine makers (also known as vintners) use a refractometer out in the vineyards to crush the grapes and measure the sugar levels; those sugar levels are indicated by the number of Brix assigned. This number helps them to know when to harvest the grapes.  Most wine grapes are harvested between 21°Bx and 25°Bx.  For a frame of reference, most table grapes that you buy at the grocery store are between 17°Bx and 19°Bx. Oh, and if the winemakers need to measure how many Brix are in the juice squeezed from the grapes, they use a hydrometer.

Why does the Brix level matter to vintners and wine lovers alike?  Well, it can help wine makers determine the likely alcohol content of a dry wine when processed in the typical fashion.  Roughly, each gram of sugar is converted into a half gram of alcohol. If you want to be more exact, you can multiply the Brix number by .59.  For instance, a grape that is 23°Bx will produce a wine that is 13.6% alcohol.

Usually, though, wines aren’t processed in the same way at each vineyard and the final alcohol content in relation to the initial Brix level of the grapes can give wine drinkers clues about the fermentation process.  If a wine has an alcohol content lower than it seems it should, according to its Brix levels at harvesting, the wine may have had some of the sweet juice drained off and replaced with water in order to make a more palatable wine.  In days of old, this drained off juice was processed into Rosé wine in much the same fashion that we use to produce our own Rosé (saignée style).  This technique is typically used in warm climates where the growing season produces grapes that ripen beyond the desired sweetness.  One other reason a wine may have a lower alcohol content than expected is because the winemaker didn’t allow all of the sugar to ferment in order to have a sweeter wine as the finished product.

Sometimes, though, a wine has a higher alcohol content than you would expect according to the Brix levels at harvest time.  In this case, the wine has been chaptalized.  Chaptalization is when sugar is added (in some form, be it juice or granulated) during the fermentation process in order to create a wine with a higher alcohol content. This technique is typically used in cool climates where the growing season is not long enough to allow the grapes to ripen to their desired sweetness.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this sweet nugget of information hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’m so glad I know the difference now, so I can tell all my doggie friends who come to hang out with me here at Brix and Columns!