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What are "Premium Grapes"?

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crushday

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On another thread, it was suggested that premium grapes make all the difference in producing great wine. While I don't have any disagreement with that notion, I'm uncertain what a "premium grape" is. I've heard that "great wine begins in the vineyard...".

I imagine 'premium grapes' are a perfect balance of brix, pH, TA or even YAN. I also imagine that a commercial winery takes their pick of the best for premium wine making (which might be, and is likely to be, different each year depending on conditions) and it trickles down from there.

In the end, is the wine I'm (or you) making made with comparatively 'factory seconds'?
 

NorCal

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I help manage and sell 50 tons of commercial wine grapes in the Sierra Foothills CA. (Crushday knows this, but for others). I would say we are in the low end of the premium grape market in our market. The target market for our premium grapes, sellIng for the highest cost per ton is local wineries.

Our long term commercial buyers have first right of refusal and choose the vineyard their grapes come from. From there we offer to new wineries. What is left we sell to home winemakers that will buy a macrobin worth of volume or a group buy like we did this year. Anything left goes to a grape broker at a discount that gets shipped back East. I would equate it to having pick of the litter, but the siblings are just fine.

I’ve also purchased from 6 other private vineyards and the quality definitely was hit and miss. I’d rather get the last pick from a well cared for vineyard than the best grapes from a poorly cared for vineyard.

Access to good fruit is essential to make the best wine possible. Making those connections, especially when buying small volumes, even when you live in wine country takes time and effort, but worth it, if you want to make the best possible wine. Heck, I know someone that drove 10+ hours each way to get grapes #crushday !
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sjjan

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I was lucky to pick premium grapes myself this fall and to make wine from it. However, the amount of premium grapes (or grapes at all) available to me here in this area of Europe is limited. How far can I get with grape concentrates? Is there something called premium grape concentrates? I am experimenting with a grape concentrate now that is close to completion of the alcoholic fermentation. It tastes rather flat and misses complexity. Is that what I should expect from a grape concentrate?
 

Rice_Guy

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@NorCal an interesting look at the market. The Midwest point of view is that juice is shipped by tanker truck to the vinters club favorite winery and we can get what they run , ,, ie it is good, ,, at least it seems to be as good as frozen pails.
@sjjan a concentrate is produced by vacuum evaporating which will remove lighter aromas.

@crushday As a mainly country wine maker “premium” is the target in creating a formulation, yes it had brix, pH, TA, tannin, antioxidants, color, YAN , ,,, and lots of aroma compounds. The country point of view is understand premium,,, and then assemble building blocks to copy this hedonic goal.
 

crushday

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The country point of view is understand premium,,, and then assemble building blocks to copy this hedonic goal.
Ah ha...like anything, winemaking is obviously a science. What are those building blocks? And, winemaking is artistry so it can't just be building blocks. But, even the artistry adheres to certain rules.

For instance, photography is the science of light. There are building blocks that must be installed symbiotically (aperture, shutter, ISO) before you take a picture. Ignored, your image will be compromised. Considered, one or more of those three can be altered and included as part of the photographers composition. Just like there's more to photography than simply pushing the button on your camera, there's more to wine making than simply crushing grapes and adding yeast.

Again, what are the measured building blocks you referred to that comprise premium grapes?
 

stickman

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Normally I would say work backwards from the product you are trying to produce. If there are wines you prefer and consider to be premium, then look at the source of the grapes, particular vineyard, the grower, region or AVA, hillside or valley floor etc. The particular grapes may not be available to you, but there may be something close by that is similar; purchase those grapes and work forward from there. Analytical measurements are nice to have, but will never accurately describe the flavors associated with the growing conditions.
 

Rice_Guy

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You have named the building blocks.
* enough pH to be chemically and microbiologically stable, for me the target is close to pH 3.2, it will keep the yeast happy yet get as close to the Ka of SO2.
* TA, enough to balance the finished sugar, for grape people the hotter the climate the lower the TA and if you are Midwest then you are trying to reduce the TA to less than 0.7% however I have sampled a cranberry which was 1.1% and really good (balanced with longer bitter notes). TA needs to balance finished sugar.
* I wouldn’t say YAN but I would say “total solids“ which includes nitrogen compounds and influences the mouth feel
* tannin, “long lasting bitter flavor notes”, what variety of grape

the artistry:
* aroma, I am tempted to say you can’t get too much ever! ! ,, therefore we chose pick date wanting ripeness/ aroma but can only measure building blocks, plus crop year, and geography really to get this non-measurable thing
* extraction of color, we eat with our eyes before our mouth
* extraction of tannin or other compounds with long lasting flavor notes, ,,, there is language about hard and soft tannin, apple folks measure grams per liter based on variety therefore this is partly a genetics building block and partly a choice of the vinter, ,,, I like the speed of prairie fire crab apple tannin so have put it in Briana white grape, rhubarb and HoneyGold apple to add long notes, (cranberry also has good long notes but it isn’t tannin) . ,,, I need to learn more on long flavors
* marketing, Perdue food science dept (or was it Cornell or both) has a professor who does taste panels with the same food and changes the setting or packaging or the buzz in the elevator going to the test setting, etc and environment/ marketing changes taste score
 

Ajmassa

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there’s plenty of high quality grapes with high ph. I don’t think the #’s correlate to what is deemed high quality or not. More so the pedigree of the grapes. Known established growers in known established AVA’s ie proven winners.

also depends on how you define ‘premium’.
 

NorCal

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What is nice about the wine industry is that there are governmental numbers collected. Each year I look at the "crush report' and it gives some very interesting numbers. My AVA sells Cab Franc between $1,500 - $2,000 per ton. The average for Cab Franc in Napa (90 minutes away) according to the 2019 report is over $9,000 per ton! The Sierra Foothills has no issue achieving ripeness, but lacks the coastal evening air to retain the acidity in the grapes. Are the NAPA grapes 5 times better? The local market for our wines is $25-$35 per bottle vs. the $75 in Napa. Does that make the Sierra grapes not as premium, perhaps, but for me, I'm not ready to spend that much on grapes.
 

NorCal

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My definition of premium is that it checks the brix, pH, TA boxes, while at the peak of ripeness, without faults (deer, insect, bird, mildew...) and no MOG in the bin. However I think there is more to it.

A few of the winemakers I sell to will always come and taste the grapes as well. They are looking for a taste profile that will come through in their wines. Definitely a qualitative measure, and I assume is a function of the root sock, clone, how it was cared for and the influence of the terroir.

I’ve made Grenache and the grapes were beautiful, but the resulting wine was the worst tasting wine I’ve made to date. I have a feeling @4score would agree, as we made it together. While the numbers were fine, the resulting flavor just was not that good.

So premium grapes to me would be everything in the first paragraph and grapes that result in an amazing taste profile.
 

CDrew

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My definition of premium is that it checks the brix, pH, TA boxes, while at the peak of ripeness, without faults (deer, insect, bird, mildew...) and no MOG in the bin. However I think there is more to it.

A few of the winemakers I sell to will always come and taste the grapes as well. They are looking for a taste profile that will come through in their wines. Definitely a qualitative measure, and I assume is a function of the root sock, clone, how it was cared for and the influence of the terroir.

I’ve made Grenache and the grapes were beautiful, but the resulting wine was the worst tasting wine I’ve made to date. I have a feeling @4score would agree, as we made it together. While the numbers were fine, the resulting flavor just was not that good.

So premium grapes to me would be everything in the first paragraph and grapes that result in an amazing taste profile.

Interesting. My 2019 Mourvedre is similar. The grapes and numbers were great, but I threw out half the wine and the other half is underwhelming. I don't know what makes the difference.
 

Rice_Guy

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Taste makes or breaks quality, that said a lot of foods are built to be just good enough
 

CDrew

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@NorCal and @CDrew - you guys are making me nervous.

Lol. Don't be nervous, just make more wine. My take is that most wine is good, and some isn't. Normal. Like life, everything is a Bell shaped curve.

Interesting that wine is NOT an engineering problem. It's almost a happenstance problem. Mostly it's good, but sometimes it isn't. This is also normal.

Now the cynical side of me says that "true" premium grapes are a $ based thing. If you grow in the To Kalon vineyard area you have the $9k per ton grapes. If you grow 20 miles away, you have the $1K per ton grapes. Just the way it is. For me, $1k per ton is reasonable, $1.5k per ton is expensive and $2k per ton is the upperlimit. $9k is the super premium area where I would not participate.

So defining premium is difficult. What you want is grapes that are as good as "premium" grapes without the premium price.

And honestly, no wine is worth $75+ per bottle. Even half that is borderline.
 

winemaker81

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A lot of "premium" is perception, as the old saying goes, perception is 90% of reality. People perceive something is good, so therefore it is. Real estate works in this fashion.

@CDrew, I'm paying around $3,000/ton ... but I'm also paying for refrigerated shipping from CA to NC, so I have to accept the cost.

The grapes we get are supposedly really good. The group coordinator works with the shipper, and long time members of the group (10+ years) are all very happy. Me? My wines from last fall are mostly superior (not really happy with the Malbec) so I am satisfied.
 

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