With only 30% of the Zuccardi harvest in, agronomist Martin DiStefano and enologist Laura Principiano are hard at work determining the course of the next handful of days. To do so, they need to manage a lot of moving parts.
Top on the list is grape quality and readiness for harvest. However, this is complicated in and of itself. Even holding grape variety and weather conditions constant, each block (as determined by soil type, aspect, exposure and a myriad of other variables) must be treated uniquely. With hundreds of hectares to harvest and each block comprised of .5 to 2 hectares, this means a lot of information needs to be assessed and compiled. To get a directional indicator of readiness, a sugar reading is taken from each site. Measured by a refractometer in Brix, ideal readings for Malbec should be around 23.8 to 24.8, which yields a potential alcohol in the finished wine of 14-15%. Most of the 25 or so blocks in the 30 hectare Gualtallary vineyard are near or at these numbers.
Again, sugar ripeness is only a directional indicator and the true test of readiness is still done the old fashioned way - by taste. So, we visit each vineyard block, tasting for sugar, tannin, acid, concentration and fruit profile. All of these must be both properly developed and in balance. We set out in a pick up truck with a vineyard map in hand. Each block is not only noted for an approximate scheduling for harvesters, but also the likely quality level/range for which the grapes are destined.
This brings us to the next consideration, that of harvesters. To me, this seems like the most difficult logistical consideration, especially with the unpredictability of proper weather conditions. Martin tells me that this year, the Zuccardi’s have several great and well organized teams who demonstrate efficiency and flexibilty. Personally, I think Martin’s experience and savvy management team have a lot to do with their ability to pull in as many as 80 tons per day of properly ripe grapes. Though 15mm rain fell on Saturday, the grapes don’t seem to be diluted and weather conditions this week, though cool the next couple of days, look dry and promising.
As we move to the next 35 hectare site in Altamira, approximate daily harvest quantities and qualities are assessed, Laura is left to determine tank usage and other winery considerations while Martin schedules the crews with exacting direction on what blocks, in what order to harvest, for vineyards scattered through the 40 mile valley.