Sunday, August 26, 2007

Let the Sun Shine!

During and after verasion a winegrower becomes neurotically aware of the sunshine. My wife can't stand it because this time of year my moods are actually influenced by the weather report. When the forecast calls for warm sunny days, she loves me. If the dreaded cloudy, or worse yet rainy forecast is called for, however, she plans to spend time away from me! You see, this is the time of year when you need as much sunshine as possible to raise the brix(sugar content) of your grapes to adequate levels for wine making. For red grapes that is generally 22-24 brix and for white wine 20-23 brix will usually be sufficient. The sun does more than build sugar levels though. The sun shining on the clusters themselves actually contributes to something called phenolic ripeness. This means that not only do the grapes have sufficient sugar for wine making, but they are physiologically ripe. There are no vegetal flavors, harsh, green tannins are gone. Fruit flavors are at a maximum and the grapes will make delicious wine. It is entirely possible for grapes to have enough sugar, but still be unripe. That's where hang time comes into play. That is the difficult and subjective period when the grapes have achieved a fairly good level of ripeness but they are not quite ready to pick, so they must hang for days or weeks longer until they reach phenolic ripeness. During this time the birds, bees, deer and lots of other pests would love to get their greedy paws(beaks, antennae, whatever) on your precious crop. Again, this is where watching the weather is crucial. Nicely ripened grapes that are just about ready can be ruined by a soaking rain. The grapes will soak up the water and become diluted. They may swell and split open only to become infected by gray mold, sour rot or unwanted botrytis. This time period is so important and it's really exciting. The whole vintage comes down to these final weeks and you continue to hope for the best and try to avoid the worst. The most important decision is still more than a month away for me, that is the day to begin the harvest. It will be different for each grape variety since they all ripen at different rates. It's all so stressful! And to think: I do this in my spare time for relaxation and pleasure? I need my head examined.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Verasion -A Test of Patience

Second only to the last few months of winter, the most difficult waiting period for a wine grower is the time just prior to verasion (when the grapes soften and change color). In the preceding weeks you have been waging a seemingly endless war against fungus and insects, keeping the canopy healthy and open, as well as making sure the grapes are exposed to a good deal of sunlight. You have watched the grapes reach full size, and it just seems as if nothing else is ever going to happen. Every day you inspect the bunches and check for the slightest change in color and still nothing. Is something wrong, you begin to wonder, they were changing by this time last year. What's going on here! Then finally one day, you notice something on a few of of the berries. Is it black rot? Anthracnose? Some downy Mildew that you've missed? No, wait a minute these grapes are turning! It's here it's finally here, verasion. What seemed like it was never going to happen has begun, the grapes are ripening. It's a wonderful sign of good things ahead. Now I just have to get the nets up to keep the birds away. You gotta love it!