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No refractometer. How to know when time is right?

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Ajmassa

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My barber has some 8-9 yr old vines at his house though He's does not make wine. He does have a very green thumb and has taken care of them over the years. Both white and red. He doesn't know the exact varietals.

The whites got pretty beat up this year and last he says. Maybe 30% left. The reds are in good shape. He's letting me have them. I need to determine when I will harvest them without a refractometer.

Very rough estimate is 30 lbs of the white and 75-100 lb of the red. Climate is northeast (Philadelphia). Thought I might just wait until I get Cali grapes and do them at the same time. He says the red taste very sweet and not acidic at all.
Anyone have a suggestion on when the time is right (understood without varietal known it is difficult)?

IMG_6119.JPG
 
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Boatboy24

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Unless you can get 100ml or so of juice and use a hydrometer; you can go by taste. Refractometers are not expensive. You'll be glad you bought one.
 

Ajmassa

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Unless you can get 100ml or so of juice and use a hydrometer; you can go by taste. Refractometers are not expensive. You'll be glad you bought one.

I don't know why I just assumed they were very expensive. Only refractometers I had looked at were in the MoreWine catalog. But now I'm seeing cheapos for <$20. $20 refractometers I'll assume they're all cheap and hope to get lucky- In winemaking equipment I tend to buy on the cheap first, and then invest in an upgrade as needed. Also allows for me to have cheap "backups" of different items.

Check the seeds. When they are brown, it is a good indicator of ripeness.

Good to know. I'm definitely buying a refractometer today but I'll still keep that in mind. I'm reading to shoot for between 23-25 °Brix, but I've only just begun to research what the heck im doing. [youtube can be a real lifesaver ]

I hit a snag on step 1, w/o a refractometer and not wanting to waste grapes on hydrometer readings given the small amount. This is only a couple gallons of white and I'm thinking 5 gal of the red if I'm lucky. I won't know for sure until I see em in person: likely tomorrow or Friday afternoon.
 
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ibglowin

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The refractometer is to fresh grapes as the hydrometer is to must. A "must" have. I paid $32 for this one back in 2012. Now going for $23.

If you ever get crazy high brix grapes like from Lodi, CA region the refractometer is the only way to accurately test for sugar as a hydrometer is useless in that thick of juice. It will just never settle into the must where you can get an accurate (repeatable) reading
 
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Ajmassa

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The refractometer is to fresh grapes as the hydrometer is to must. A "must" have. I paid $32 for this one back in 2012. Now going for $23.

Done deal. Thanks for the quick recommendation. I'll have it in my hands Friday afternoon, and testing some grapes 30 minutes later.
~~~everyone pretty much uses distilled water to calibrate right? No need to mess with any other solutions ? I see both as options.
 
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Boatboy24

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Not that you needed me to convince you, but I have the same one Mike has. ;)

Yep, distilled is fine.
 

NorCal

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I sell grapes for our community and so I get to talk to a dozen professional winemakers each season. I publish brix weekly, but almost all will come to make sure the grapes are not just full of sugar, but also ripe.

An old guy told me to throw the refractometer away and pay attention to the grape; the skin, the seeds, how the skin pulls away from the remains, the flavors it has, the color etc.

I still use the refractometer as a guide, but I replay this conversation in my head when making the decision to harvest.
 

balatonwine

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Getting a brix reading is only half of what you need to determine ideal ripeness for wine making. You also need to get a handle of acidity or pH to know when these are in balance and when is the best time to harvest. So I strongly recommend you also buy a pH meter. Then use brix x ph^2 to determine ripeness. See this for more details how to use :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripeness_in_viticulture#Balancing_sugar.2C_acidity_and_pH

For example, waiting to get a Brix of 24 while pH by then is 4.0 you have a grossly over ripe grape. Yes, you can try to "correct this" with some wine making chemistry, but IMHO better to minimize such if you can by picking grapes at a more ideal time.

Side note: Not knowing the varietals, is a problem; they could just be table grapes and may never reach "ideal" balance of brix, acidity, and pH expected of a wine making variety, so you may end up doing a lot of chemistry anyway.
 
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balatonwine

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An old guy told me to throw the refractometer away and pay attention to the grape; the skin, the seeds, how the skin pulls away from the remains, the flavors it has, the color etc.
The modern tools used to determine ripeness are indeed directly related to such traditional hands on only methods. But learning these skills well enough to the point of not using such tools takes a long time. As in growing up in a multi-genration wine making family and overtaking the business in mid life. One should not "just" throw out the refractometer so cavalierly.

I have been using a host of tools to determine ripeness for 18 years starting from my first vineyard. And I am just now starting to narrow the gap significantly from field inspection to when I feel I need to start to take measurements to determine ripeness. And then when I have determined "ideal" ripeness from the tool measurements, experience again takes over when to actually harvest, such as if I think a little more hang time might benefit the final wine (no tool can help me decide that last step).
 

Ajmassa

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Sounds to me like you guys agree with each other. Nobody's tossin their lab tools, pretty sure that meant to not just trust the numbers. And my own five senses can be just as helpful in deciding time.
And that's what I'll have to be doing. Deciding based on the sugar levels and my own judgments. I'm not going to test pH or TA until after crush. The small yield I fear I would waste too much in testing. The goal is without a doubt to have to adjust the least amount as possible. I'm just going to try my very best since this is my first time with grapes off the vine being in total control.
Balatonwine, these are 100% wine grapes. Over the years he has forgotten the exact name though. The red grape he butchered some Italian Name when trying to recall. I went through over 100 listed Italian grapes trying to look for something that just sounded similar to what he said. No dice.
He's not really much of a wine person, more of a gardner, growing all kinds of things: coffee beans, fruits & veggies, herbs etc... so it was hard to pump him for information. And he said the guy that he purchased the vines from described them both as "Burgundy style". Sounded conflicting to me-Italian and then Burgundy. So I stopped pestering for info and was just happy to be getting to have these grapes for nothin.
 

Ajmassa

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By the way, just wanted to say this site was very helpful. Getting into both the science and the physiological. Mentioning the seed color as NorCal said, the green flexible stem/brown stiff stem, skin color etc.....:

I found a website with a pretty good general guideline for my needs. Combined with learning the harvesting Jedi senses, I'm confident I won't screw it up. I'll probably test ph too. shouldn't require too many grapes to submerge the probe.
 

pgentile

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Done deal. Thanks for the quick recommendation. I'll have it in my hands Friday afternoon, and testing some grapes 30 minutes later.
~~~everyone pretty much uses distilled water to calibrate right? No need to mess with any other solutions ? I see both as options.
Looking to get a refractometer myself, this thread has been helpful.

But I'm curious, where you are getting grapes from this Friday? As far as I can see Procacci Bros and Gino still don't have anything in yet. Or are you going to test on table grapes?
 

Ajmassa

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Looking to get a refractometer myself, this thread has been helpful.



But I'm curious, where you are getting grapes from this Friday? As far as I can see Procacci Bros and Gino still don't have anything in yet. Or are you going to test on table grapes?

Not getting Friday. Just checking up on. Check out the 1st post. My barber has some vines and he's letting me have the grapes. Not a lot.
Which is just adding a whole new level of the winemaking process for me. So just trying to brush up on all the 'what/where/when/why''s of harvesting grapes.
After researching and discussing refractometers though, which weren't ever on my radar of tools to own, I'm digging it more and more. Just makes for a quick and easy sugar check without much legwork. (Pre-fermentation of course. During AF I just drop the hydrometer right into the primary usually)
 

pgentile

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Not getting Friday. Just checking up on. Check out the 1st post. My barber has some vines and he's letting me have the grapes. Not a lot.
Which is just adding a whole new level of the winemaking process for me. So just trying to brush up on all the 'what/where/when/why''s of harvesting grapes.
After researching and discussing refractometers though, which weren't ever on my radar of tools to own, I'm digging it more and more. Just makes for a quick and easy sugar check without much legwork. (Pre-fermentation of course. During AF I just drop the hydrometer right into the primary usually)
I should have read the thread more thoroughly. Now I see how your testing grapes this friday. Snagging some free grapes off the vine is cool.
 

pgentile

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Ajmassa

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That leaf at the bottom of the red grape image looks like it possibly could be carignan or grenache. But then again I know nothing about identifying grape varietals, nor the accuracy of the charts of identifying grape leaves I've seen.

Yea man. I honestly didn't even make an attempt at identifying. I've seen so many posts on here with a pic asking, "What grape is this?" .....,,and I've never seen an answer, just more questions. I knew I would just end up wasting time on something that doesn't really matter much at this point.
They're definitely wine grapes. I'm definitely making wine with them. And Before a few days ago I've never had to concern myself with grapes before the point of being loaded into the back of my truck.

And I agree, the opportunity to pick grapes off the vine myself for no charge (and being responsible for deciding when to do so) is something to be excited about. We talked about this last year and I completely forgot about it until I just got a haircut last week. Regardless of anything else I'm already enjoying the prep work and looking forward to the whole process.
 

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