Aren’t the purty? There’s something so sweet and lovely about the clusters as they begin to blush and change color. By the time they’re finished they’ll be almost black in color.
And, the color change is such a significant event that there’s a name for it – French, of course 😉 – veraison.
Veraison signals that the shoots have stopped growing and that the vine’s energy has shifted into fruit ripening. It’s a kind of code language to the vineyard manager and the cellar master to get it together for crush because the grapes will be pounding on the door before long.
Veraison is usually complete within about ten days, if the weather’s good. Shortly after, the vineyard manager will get a baseline sugar reading. Folks who are called field samplers are hired to walk the vine rows, collecting grape samples. Because most vineyards are harvested only once, they get specific instructions from the vineyard manager because the sample needs to represent the section of vineyard as a whole. The winemaker wants an average reading of sugar, acid and pH.
The sugar might be at about 15 or 16% at that point. The only wine that’s harvested at under 20% is sparkling wine so those guys have to get on the stick right away. Get the scale ready, clean all the picking boxes and delivery boxes. Clean all the tanks and equipment. Buy supplies, like yeast, if they haven’t already… And, make a game plan.
For still-wine producers the sugar usually ranges between 21 and 28%, so they won’t need to get another sample for several weeks. But, once the section averages around 20% the frequency of sampling is increased and the winemaker begins tasting.
When the sugar, acid and pH are nicely aligned at the same time the flavors are at peak, that’s really great – it’s called a good year! In Napa Valley the most common problem is that warm weather is pushing the sugar up faster than the flavors are maturing and that the acid is going flat. In cooler regions the fear is that they may never get enough sugar, the grapes are way too tart, or they get rained out.
Most winemakers agree that the most important decision they make, annually, is when to harvest each section of vineyard. It’s kind of like a great chef picking out the best produce. If you don’t start with the best, it’s really hard to produce something special.
So, when veraison is complete it marks the beginning of the end. So far, here in Napa Valley, things are happening right on time and it looks really good – yay! Let’s hope it continues… Cheers!
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