Wednesday, September 12, 2012

California vintners: Brag about your low pH here

Hey California vintners, are you making refreshing, well-balanced wines? Then brag about them here.

Harvest threads usually tout brix level. But everybody knows California wines can get ripe, especially after a warm and dry summer like this year.

What is sometimes questioned, particularly by Europhiles, is how refreshing the wines are. The clause I get tired of reading is "California Chardonnays are ..." It's a big, diverse state, and the Chards from Sonoma Coast are nothing like each other, much less like Chards from Napa Valley.

So help me out here. Prove a point, brag, and tell the world about the low pH of the grapes you just picked for a still wine (we know sparkling grapes have low pH). Of course technical numbers aren't an assurance of a delicious wine any more than mainstream critics' numbers are. But they are an indicator of what you're trying to do.

You can list it like this: Showalter Winery, Markakis Vineyard, Anderson Valley, Pinot Meunier, Sep. 22, 3.11 pH.

As an incentive, I will write profiles on The Gray Report of the winery and/or winemaker who post  three of the lowest pHs here: white, red and a wild card, perhaps selected by other commenters. There's no end date for this; I'll start working on the profiles about Halloween. 

Don't leave me hanging out here, defending the state's diversity. Please, please, post your freshly harvested grapes' pH here. Thank you.

(Note: I'm going to clean up the comments section by deleting those that aren't about specific wines' pH.)

LEADERBOARD:  White wines
Grgich Hills, Sauvignon Blanc, American Canyon estate vineyard, 2.96 pH
Siduri, Sauvignon Musque, Russian River Valley, 3.08 pH
Bello Family Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 3.10 pH
Forlorn Hope, Gewurztraminer, Russian River Valley, 3.20 pH

Red wines: 
Siduri Bucher Vineyard Pepperwood Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 3.35 pH
Siduri Lewis Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 3.39 pH

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


  1. Blake,

    You may want to ask people when they take their samples. At our winery, we never run numbers on juice until we've done a 48 hour cold soak. If you take pHs right out of the destemmer you will get a much lower number than you will if you wait 48 hours (as we do)...especially if your potassium is high and/or your are doing whole cluster.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  2. pH at pick time doesn't tell the whole story - and can even be misleading. You need to consider the amount of malic acid that it's the juice. Juice with low pH can, after ML, create a wine that's relatively high in pH.

    And low pH in and of itself isn't necessarily good or bad. It's the combination of all the factors in grapes/juice/wine that lead to balance.

    Brian Loring
    Loring Wine Company

  3. Hello Blake,

    I nominate:
    Ironstone 2011 Obsession Symphony, California, pH 3.25; and
    Leaping Horse 2010 White Zinfandel, California, pH 3.12.
    Ironstone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, pH 3.39; and
    Ironstone 2010 Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, pH 3.43.

    Andrea Wilson
    TGIC Social Media Manager &
    Interim Ironstone Brand Manager

  4. Jordan's first pick will be Monday--Alexander Valley Merlot. pH to follow.

    For the 2008 Jordan Cabernet (current release):

    pH at harvest: 3.75
    pH at bottling: 3.52

    2010 Jordan Chardonnay (current release):

    pH at harvest: 3.50
    pH at bottling: 3.31

    Lisa Mattson

  5. Blake,

    Of course winemakers talk numbers during harvest. But they only have meaning within a given context. Trying to take one of the raw numbers and extrapolate that into a general rule is IMHO rather unproductive, and likely to lead to false conclusions.

    For example, we've picked Cabernet from Russell Family Vineyard in Paso at 3.05 pH (after a 3 day soak up as Adam mentioned). But somehow I doubt that wine would be the poster child for what I think you're trying to show.... because it was 32 brix. Made a super yummy wine, but probably not a wine to answer the Europhile's issue.

  6. Brian: Paso Cabernet at 3.05 pH? That's PRECISELY what I'm talking about. Flaunt it, man.

  7. I think the lowest pH we could come up with was the 2011 Novy Blanc de Pinot Noir which came in at 3.16pH.

    But, wow, Brian....3.05 at 32 brix? That's pHucked!

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  8. Adam - the most amazing thing was that it must have been fairly low malic, because the finished wine's pH was 3.30 :) Must be the limestone in the vineyard. Our Pinot from there is usually high brix / low pH as well. Except this year.... where the pHs blew out a bit (3.7-ish). pHun stuff.

  9. Thomson Vineyard
    As of September 5, 2012

    Grower's comments:
    Dark fully mature seeds
    Intense citrus flavor
    Full cluster sample Brix: 20
    "If it were my own Chardonnay program I'd consider picking it after the forecasted heat at about 22.5 Brix, given other maturity indicators."

    Winemakers comments:
    Berry sample Brix: 18.5
    TA: 0.94g/100mL
    pH: 3.09
    "We have a long way to go."

    To be continued...

  10. Blake,

    All too easy...come up with some low pH stuff. Go with these's a truly challenging wine:

    From 2012 -- brix 24.6, pH 4.1, TA 4.2, 43.5% malic, potassium of 2050 and YAN of 420.

    Now that's a column for you!

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  11. Adam, that's a headache.

    Blake, it's the relationship between TA and pH that matters to us, so you need both to really see what's happening or has happened. Anyone playing around with Alsatians knows what I mean.

    Here's an example with our 2007 Just Joshin Tempranillo

    Post-Harvest: pH 4.21, TA 7.3
    Bottling: pH 3.83, TA 8.2

    Therein lies a tale.

  12. 2009 Center of Effort Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA - 14.51% Alc, pH 3.25, TA 8.2 g/l as finished wine.

    This wine is all clone 5 from our estate - some lots came in at harvest with over 12g TA, about 4 g/l malate (super high for us.)

    Feral yeast fermentation in barrels took over 16 months to complete - as such, the RS levels masked the biting acidity until the wine went dry, around Christmas one year following harvest. Full ML fermentation (truth be told, I believe that ML finished well prior to RS completion.) Bottled at 20 months old, the long ferment left a very fresh, young-feeling wine at bottling - and the ~50% new French oak is really tucked into the wine subtly, we think as a result of long biological activity and high acidity.

    The result is an attention-getting wine; acidity like Chablis, but richness, fruit and alcohol courtesy California. We were seriously concerned all the way up to bottling with whether the wine would be understood or appreciated by anyone other than ourselves - turns out we are finding some committed fans and it is a interesting, fun wine to show, and top-notch at the table.

    We'd never design a wine with these parameters if we were sketching out our target, but sometimes nature leads you down paths that are less traveled.

  13. Just picked for Bello Family Vineyards on Tuesday a block of SB in Napa with a juice pH of 3.10, TA 6.9, 23.9 brix, go 2012!

  14. Blake,
    This is from last year, but I wrote a little piece on the acid in my zinfandel. Wait, what the hell am I doing reading a blog right now, this is harvest? My hands should not be touching a keyboard.

  15. We harvested Pinot yesterday at a beautiful 21.8 brix off the vine with ph 3.25. We expect .75-1.0 point of sugar up (an often NOT discussed concept). Yes, even at a low brix of 21.8, we expect sugar up. Tart and tasting terrific.

    Cheers to the best vintage in 40 years. I expect 2012 to blow doors on 2007.

  16. Folks, if you're following the comments, I'm about to go in and delete ones that aren't germane, which is to say comments that aren't specifically about the pH of specific wines. A number of people wanted to point out that pH by itself doesn't tell you anything. Stipulated.

    Now let's see those pHs.

  17. Randy: Details, man! Vineyard, region, and who are you? Lovers of fresh-tasting Pinot want to know.

  18. Blake -- here are some of the numbers on an array of cultivars that I've brought in thus far. Nothing too extreme:

    data listed as Date picked, Brix, pH, and TA (g/L)

    Chenin blanc (Amador County): 9/9, 21.0, 3.37, 6.9

    Verdelho (Amador County): 8/27, 21.1, 3.41, 5.6

    Trousseau gris (Suisun Valley): 8/21, 20.1, 3.44, 6.9

    Pinot gris (Lodi): 8/17, 21.0, 3.45, 4.7

    Verdelho (Alta Mesa): 8/17, 19.6, 3.56, 4.9

    Verdelho (Amador County): 8/16, 22.3, 3.25, 8.4

    Verdelho (Borden Ranch): 8/14, 24.8, 3.52, 7.2

    Interestingly, pH values are higher across the board in my vineyards, and other phenological markers are well advanced (seed browning, stem and cane lignification) of where I normally see them at these sugar levels (the Borden Ranch Verdelho excepted -- I've never picked it that ripe). Turn and face the strange v-v-vintage.

  19. Blake, do you care if it is a "natural" pH or not? Aside from acid additions, some people achieve low pH with our juice pH lowering service.

    Mavrik North America

  20. Bob: Now THAT's a good question. Sure, if a winery is willing to talk honestly about using a pH lowering service, that's interesting and worthy of a profile.

  21. Russian River Sauvignon Musque....picked it early this morning:

    titratable acidity 7.6 g/L
    pH 3.22
    L-malic acid 3.32 g/L
    tartaric acid 6.51 g/L
    brix 21.9 degrees
    glucose + fructose 230 g/L
    ammonia 60 mg/L
    alpha-amino compounds (as N) 104 mg/L
    yeast assimilable nitrogen mg/L (as N) 9/14/12
    potassium 1350 mg/L

  22. Seems a good idea to clarify whether chemistry posted here has been altered/adjusted, otherwise there's no real point in comparison, right?

    All of the Forlorn Hope juice sample values I list are unaltered/unadjusted. I don't add anything to my juice, must, or wine at any point with the exception of SO2 (aside from my sans soufre bottlings).

    Here are numbers from two more vineyards I picked since my last posting:

    Barbera (Loomis): 9/12, 24.5, 3.82, 5.8

    Gew├╝rztraminer (Russian River Valley): 9/13, 21.5, 3.20, 5.8

    More to come next week. Very interesting to see other numbers... Eric and Adam, those SBs read deliciously! Can't wait to taste the wines.

  23. Ivo Jeramaz from Grgich Hills sent me an analysis from ETS laboratories of Sauvignon Blanc from his American Canyon vineyard.
    pH: 2.96
    titratable acidity: 11.0 g/L
    tartaric acid: 7.22 g/L
    malic acid: 5.23 g/L
    brix: 22.6

    Go Ivo! First sub-3 pH I've seen this year. Ivo: "In old days we used thousands of pounds of tartaric acid every year to achieve optimum levels. Today, we are 100% estate and certified Biodynamic and acidity is in the grapes. Tartaric acid from the bag is not same as tartaric (or malic ) acid in the grapes!"

  24. A different section of Sauvignon Musque....doing a skin soak on it for 24 hours and then pressing it:

    titratable acidity 9.5 g/L
    pH 3.08
    L-malic acid 4.24 g/L
    tartaric acid 7.30 g/L
    brix 22.0 degrees
    glucose + fructose 229 g/L
    ammonia 73 mg/L
    alpha-amino compounds (as N) 113 mg/L
    yeast assimilable nitrogen 173 mg/L (as N)
    potassium 1240 mg/L

  25. The reds are all going to be higher pH...especially if you do some time on the skins before sampling. Maybe have a different red category?

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  26. Bucher Vineyard Pepperwood Pinot Noir (no 48 hour soak on this one):

    L-malic acid 9/20/2012 2.72 g/L Reported

    tartaric acid 9/20/2012 4.41 g/L Reported

    brix 9/20/2012 22.9 degrees Reported

    glucose + fructose 9/20/2012 241 g/L Reported

    potassium 9/20/2012 1140 mg/L Reported

    ammonia 9/20/2012 96 mg/L Reported

    alpha-amino compounds (as N) 9/20/2012 179 mg/L Reported

    pH 9/20/2012 3.35 Reported

    titratable acidity 9/20/2012 6.0 g/L Reported

    yeast assimilable nitrogen 9/20/2012 258 mg/L (as N) Reported

  27. Lewis Vineyard in the RRV -- Pinot Noir

    titratable acidity 5.8 g/L 9/25/12
    pH 3.39 9/25/12
    L-malic acid 2.23 g/L 9/25/12
    tartaric acid 4.71 g/L 9/25/12
    brix 25.5 degrees 9/25/12
    glucose + fructose 276 g/L 9/25/12
    ammonia 79 mg/L 9/25/12
    alpha-amino compounds (as N) 161 mg/L 9/25/12
    yeast assimilable nitrogen 226 mg/L (as N) 9/25/12
    potassium 1220 mg/L 9/25/12

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines