Sour Grapes
July 1st, 2014
Peggy Fiandaca

A wine club member mentioned that he had tasted wine recently that seemed to taste sour.

We have heard that many times. We believe that the sourness comes from lack of balance related to sugars at harvest, quality of fruit, pH, and what the winemaker tries to do/or doesn’t know how to do to balance them.

Sourness is often compared to acidity and the two concepts are not even remotely related. Sourness occurs at the front and mid palette while acidity is at the back end and is pleasing and provides structure.
   Lawrence Dunham Vineyards

There is a populous trend toward making lower alcohol, less fruit forward wines (aka: big wines, fruit bombs = bad). Nothing wrong with the concept but disregarding terroir to do this is a problem. This is Arizona, not France. Our sunshine and UV levels at the altitudes needed to grow good grapes are in conflict with this concept. Our pH levels also seem to be higher than you will see in other places. We make no apologies for making a 15.5% alcohol level Petite Sirah because this is what our place does. If you don’t like that style, that’s fine, but based on the input received from our customers, a lot of people do and the wine is a true reflection of our unique spot. To us, that is what winemaking is all about – figuring out your vineyard and making the best wine possible from that fruit produced.

UC Davis preaches that any wine over 3.8 pH is unstable. This is crap in our opinion. A well-made wine produced in a sterile environment can thrive for years at a higher level and frankly, this is where Arizona red wines naturally need to be. If we were making wines to lay down for 25 years we might have a different opinion but that is not our goal. We are making wines that are very approachable early since we don’t have the longevity to know how long they will last. Someone else long after we are gone will have some history to work with, but we don’t.

Chasing the 3.8 pH level causes one to do some things that greatly impact the wine such as the addition of massive amounts of tartaric or citric acid = SOUR. Or, picking the grapes prior to reaching the optimum ripeness and flavor levels in order to curb alcohol production. Relying on sugar levels vs. picking when the grapes taste good often results in out of balance fruit.

Just our observations from five crushes in a place totally foreign to wine grapes!