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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Veraison

For those that read my blog, you find that I am either celebrating or complaining. A project is finally completed, or maybe a new mission has finally begun. There are several times during the year that get me all goosebumps though. Harvest time is obviously one of them, and personally I am very fond of budbreak for it signals the official start of the new year.

In between these however there seems to be just a never ending series of mundane tasks. Mowing, spraying, and of course weeding and more weeding. Add to this several prunings and a series of other tasks such as putting in a new vineyard with its poles, drip lines, wires, and plantings, and the summer seems to go by way too fast.

There is a time in the middle of the hot summer months though where, as a vintner, you wait for a particular time that signals that the conclusion of the growing months has now "been scheduled" in. That time is called veraison. It is the time when the pea-sized green grapes just start to change color, and bunches of grapes may be green, pink, blue, purple, and violet. A grape changing color can now be squeezed between your index finger and thumb to squirt out its juice, and if you dare you may now put one in your mouth to first start testing for those sugars that are all important in the fermenting process which ultimately leads to a nice wine.

At first these grapes are rather tart. Sugar levels are low, probably in the 2 to 5% range. But they will quickly climb up to a BRIX reading (that's wine talk for percentage of sugar) of around 15 or so. And then there starts the tease. Sugar content has a direct relationship to the alcohol that one can have in the wine, so with an alcohol content of 12% you are looking for a BRIX number that is twice this, or a 24.

But that number seems to be both elusive, and freighteningly easy to screw around with. Having raced up to a 15 level, it now just looks at you. Grape skins have already started to soften to allow the grape to expand and hold more juice, but this might easily turn into a nightmare should sunny days turn into a series of rainy ones. Grapes will suck up this new found moisture and play games with your forecasts and sugar content, all of a sudden reducing the percentage level of the sugar as the grape begins to bloat. Too much rain could lead to late season fungus, or possibly lead to skins breaking under the water pressure within the grape.

Our fingers are crossed however, hoping there isn't a sudden and prolonged weather change.  Sunny days are good for promoting an increase in sugar levels, and more times than not our prayers are answered. Diligence is still required however. Spray schedules must be adhered to, though as you get closer to harvest there is a time when you have to back off to make sure they are not present during picking. As these BRIX readings get very close to signaling removing the tons of grapes, all manually I might add, one eye is aimed at the sky deciding if rain is due which might accelerate the picking process.   Last year we picked 3 of our varieties a little early knowing Hurricane Irene was coming up the coast.

This has been a really hot summer, and unlike the weather the Midwest has had, where if you listen to RFD TV you hear alot about the drought they are having. We have had plenty of rain which has led to other problems aforementioned. Heat and rain, hanging humidity causes all sorts of spores to latch onto grape leaves and the fruit. Hence all the spraying we have done.  I know those into "organics" don't like the use of all these chemicals, but not using them is the quickest way of declaring surrender, and bankruptcy in the grape bussiness. For the most part we have adhered to a qualified schedule and our harvest should reflect our ability to stay ahead of many of the problems.

It is late in the afternoon on a Saturday as I write this. It is still 90 degrees outside and I am thinking it might drop a few degrees so I can go out and mow in between the rows.  Sounds like I have already messed up my grand plan I described last week that would have given me a change of pace and some personal time. Oh well. When the fields, and the grapes call, you must go.

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