by Fred McMillin
Brix and Bubbles
Handley Cellars Chardonnay harvest in 1993...
Prof. Marion Baldy: "The optimum harvest Brix is..."
Question given to my S.F. State (College of Extended Learning) class: Why did Milla Handley, (pictured) harvest the sparkling wine Chardonnay at 20 instead of 18 degrees Brix?
(Warning: This article is only for those interested in the more technical aspects of winemaking.)
First, what's degrees Brix? About 150 years ago Antoine Brix ("bricks") created a scale that indicates the approximate sugar content of grape juice. Hence, Milla harvested at about 20% sugar instead of the optimum 18%.
Why was this done? Milla explained. "The Anderson Valley spring in 1993 was unusually cool, causing high acid contents. Consequently, we harvested at higher sugar levels to help balance the tart flavors in the grapes."
It worked. I ran the '93 Brut through my Scott's Panel blind tasting. They voted it the top sparkler tasted this year (over some bottles twice the price).
About Brix, it is used in North America and South Africa. But there are other scales that also measure the sugar content by the density of the juice. For example, in Europe the Baume scale is common, named after its creator (1768), another Antoine, Antoine Baume.
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