by Fred McMillin
for November 9, 1998


Brix and Bubbles

The Question

Handley Cellars Chardonnay harvest in 1993...
23 degrees Brix for their still wine
20 degrees Brix for their sparkling wine

Prof. Marion Baldy: "The optimum harvest Brix is..."
23 degrees Brix for still wine
18 degrees Brix for sparkling wine

Milla Handley 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?

The Answer

(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).


The Sparkler

1993 Brut Sparkler, Anderson Valley
Handley Cellars, Philo, CA.
Grape Varieties—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Now it may mean more to you that the Pinot also was harvested at about 20 degrees Brix.
Rating—My tasters didn't know it, but the Los Angeles County Fair judges agreed with them. In Los Angeles it won the GOLD and BEST OF CLASS!
Food Affinities—A wonderful way to extinguish a two-alarm fire created by Mexican or Indonesian dishes.
Production—Only 400 cases. Hurry.
Price—$20 range

Handley Tasting Room
     Handley Tasting Room


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.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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