Sugar freaks

Brian Emerson tests the sugars at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station.

Brian Emerson tests the sugars at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station.

Sugar shock yesterday, after trying every one of the grape varieties at the West Madison research garden. Brian Emerson, staff gardener, tested the sugar content. You rub a grape’s juice all over the lens of the thing, and then squint into the sky as though it’s a kaleidoscope. Inside is blue above and white below, and the horizon dividing them hits a point on the scale that corresponds to the percentage of sugar. Wine grapes — harvested at 20-25 percent, I’m told. My untrained tongue cannot predict from the sweetness of the grape how much sugar is in it, I suppose the varying tartness complicates matters.

Some grapes taste like apple, and others like pink grapefruit. Judy, who runs the garden, is working with Wisconsin winemakers to develop hardier grapes for the area. White varietals are especially lacking, she said; they have just a few to work with. The grapes I tried that are the most commonly used around here, being the most reliable, were not the most delicious or complex to me — but again, my tongue’s been raised on boxed wine and your two standard grocery-store grapes most of my life.

White grapes, of the varietal NY76.

White grapes, of the varietal NY76.

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