Project 23

Mr. Smith,

Your article spurred me to thinking and after talking to a few winemakers in the Central Coast (which I write bout) I decided to propose a collaborative experiment. I would appreciate your thoughts on the idea.

Dear Arthur:

The discussion about maturity often collapses the aspects of brix and flavor ripeness. The former is a good indicator of eventual alcohol content but is almost unrelated to the latter.

Red grapes experience a progression on the vine from

1. underripe weediness and low color to

2. proper ripeness, characterized by full color, ripe flavors (rich fresh berry fruit), and maximum reductive strength, thence to

3. the pruney, jammy flavors and poor longevity.

Seasonal and climatic variables render it impossible to use sugar measurement to tell which stage fruit will be in at 23 brix. In rain-free climes such as California, the tendency is that red fruit is often slightly underripe, though in weird years like 1998 much overripe fruit was picked at 22 brix (in November). In France and most of the rest of the U.S and Canada, brixes over 23.5 are rare, especially for grapes hanging into the rainy season, when they can become quite overripe despite low brix.

For these reasons I question the wisdom of focusing on brix as a ripeness indicator. Its utility as an indicator of alcohol has validity, however, for those who for religious reasons don’t wish to avail themselves of available technologies to balance their wines.

Project 23 wines could tell us whether I am correct. I believe that we make better wines when we pick on flavor than on sugar. So the key element, as with any experiment, is have a control for comparison. A second wine should also be made by the participating winery which is picked on berry sensory assessment or the spectrophotometric analysis protocol posted at,'s Vineyard Enology section or whatever system the winemaker wants to use (preferably documented). Vinovation would be willing to alcohol-adjust selected lots to an harmonious alcohol in the same range as the 23 brix wines so sensory comparison could be made independent of alcohol content.

Thanks for your idea.

Clark Smith
Thank you for your thoughts, Clark.

I am not so much fixated on alcohol, as I am on balance, better structure and longevity. In addition to your and Dan's articles, it is the juxtaposition of wines from Lane Tanner and Billy Wathen (same vineyards, same vintage, but picked two weeks apart with Lane picking earlier) that spurred me to start this project.

I had a number of 2005 wines from Santa Barbara County picked at or just below 24.5 that were rich and robust.

With full acknowledgment of all you've said in your email, what sugar level would you recommend for harvesting, if the TTB were setting up absolute picking standards and asked you for your opinion?

Would you be willing to help out on this project in the 2008 vintage? As with any undertaking, getting people's buy-in is more than half the battle. I don't expect to get any participation with 2007 fruit. However, I really want to get people to push the envelope to see what our (Central Coast) wines are capable of. Part of that will be convincing people to let go of the need for immediate richness in a wine.

Finally, could you educate me on how your technology functions? (To help you formulate your answer, I am an MD specializing in Nuclear Medicine. So.... Chemistry and physics are familiar ground.)

Arthur Z. Przebinda
Dear Arthur:

Thanks for your prompt reply.

Here’s the trouble without discussion: To be discussing brix as a picking criterion is to be fixated on alcohol. Brix tells you the alcohol you’ll get, but nothing more. If you’re concerned about balance, better structure and longevity, you need different parameters.

I’d love to participate in the Project next year. Unfortunately it’s too late this year.

Our process is very simple. We use a very, very tight membrane which will not allow any flavor or color to pass through it (nothing above 100 daltons molecular weight). These were developed by the U.S. Navy in the ‘60’s to filter salt out of seawater to create drinking water on ships. Reverse osmosis filters are now in every Safeway as water purifiers.

In the case of wine, this filtrate contains water and about 80% of the alcohol level present in the wine, so for a 15% alcohol wine it would be about 12%. We distill this alcohol out with a continuous packed column still, then cool the purified water and return it to the wine.

It works very well. In the past 13 years we’ve adjusted about 20,000 wines for 800 wineries including many of your neighbors.

Come see us sometime, and I’ll show you around.





Hi Clark!

Thanks for hosting this discussion!

I was hoping to do just this and get winemakers talking and thinking.

With that said: Should we change the parameters (and refine them for differnt varieties?

As Morgan Clendenen points out, Sauv.b may be fine at 22.5 bx but Viognier may have trouble at thatlevel.



Again, Clark, thank you for hosting this discussion and for providing a forum where we may be able to address a *hot* topic.

I chose the 23 Bx. reference point on the basis of John Williams of Frog’s Leap reporting good flavors at 23.5 Bx., and your statement that, in California, it was "standard practice until the ‘90’s was to pick serious reds for the time-honored alcohol balance – 23.5 Brix"

The wines picked at that level must have had some merit. Perhaps making wines from grapes harvested at lower Bx. might require alterations in farming (gasp! - a step back?). Whether these will be practical (for all or just a select few) is for the participants of this discussion to help figure out.

As I see it, we have a year to refine our parameters, with contingencies for the vagaries of climate and growing season.



Hi Clark,

I just wanted to give you a heads up regarding project23. We have more producers who will have 2007 and even library wines for the project. Additionally, we may have some Napa wines.

I think that your idea of introducing wines that underwent alcohol reduction might be an interesting aspect to consider. It will help round out the discussion and the ensuing knowledge gained.

Finally, I have started a discussion forum for project23. It can be found here:

I hope you will join us and contribute to this project.