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Summer to Fall in the Vineyard

September 22, 2019

Summer to Fall in the Vineyard

Harvest Is On The Horizon!

The harvest is now in sight so “things” begin to get a bit more involved. The growth RATE on the vines should be fully declined, that is to say when you look at the “canes” (arms) on the vine.  At this point you should NOT see “new growth “, young tendrils still trying to become “wood”. It is expected the plant hormones have shifted and the plant is now working to fully ripen the fruit it has set. So rather than the plant become bigger”, it is concentrating on maturing the fruit (embryos).

It is also the time for “veraison” where colored varietals begin to “show” color. That is, the skins of the berries and clusters of red varietals will turn from green to red / blue. White varietals will start to “freckle” and the skins will take on a slight yellow shade. Overall as things progress the berries will finish growing in size and begin to soften. It is a rough but reasonable estimate when veraison has clearly begun, to harvest in about 6 weeks.

Considerations About Fruit Development

Many things need to be considered at this point, because now that the focus of the plant is “on the fruit”, decisions that are made that affect the growing plant have a great effect on the fruit composition/chemistry. Irrigation now will see its effect on fruit chemistry. pH’s will rise and overall acidity will fall. Some acids are volatile and be respired, sugar levels will rise. The fruit is now at its most vulnerable for molds and rot, dehydration and sunburn, so more time is spent in the vineyard assessing the conditions of the vines.

Getting A Picking Crew

As the year progresses, more time is spent “thinking ahead”. Logistics has become one of the most important aspects of harvest, as most small to mid-size wineries no longer “have their own crews” to pick. The vast majority of getting the fruit off and delivered to the winery has become the realm of the vineyard manager. Thinking ahead involves many factors, at the very least the weather. The main reason is with so many acres growing, and a finite work force, weather can have the effect of having many varietals and geographical areas all “come ripe” at the same time. Since the “call to pick”
is clearly one of the most important decision in the whole winemaking process, and nature doesn’t “go on hold”, getting the crop in when it NEEDS to be can be a trick.

How To Monitor The Weather

During this period, the last month, an enormous amount of time needs to be spent in the vineyard assessing. It is necessary to review weather related information available from NOAA, CIMIS, the National Climate Prediction Center, and daily / weekly forecasts in the local area. As the call to pick gets very near, and often “ getting on the schedule “ means about a 7 – 10 day advance call, one needs to get a good feel for the anticipation of weather in the near term since large effects on fruit composition can occur in a short time period. If one sees for example a period of “very hot days” (3 -4
in a row) one may have to consider if the fruit will be sufficiently mature just ahead to make the call. If not, does one irrigate? That will certainly mess up the fruit chemistry.

This is most problematical in a “hot year”, where the sugar levels in the grapes can jump in a very short period. The higher the sugar levels the higher the subsequent alcohol levels in the wine, and increasing problems with fermentations. In a hot year “everyone” will be calling a pick at the same time. Sugar levels and fruit integrity can be lost within just a few
days, so one really needs to be thinking ahead so as to “get on the picking schedule”.

The converse is for example a “cold year”, where the growth/maturity of the grapes is delayed. It is pretty predictable that once harvest gets into late September, the will be “a weather event”. There is almost “always“ some rain, later and that will start the mold / mildew clock where the fruit will degrade in just a few days ( and EVERYONE is “calling to pick" ). As the year goes on, the sun is lower in the sky, the plant is getting less photosynthetic hours and the plant hormones will eventually tell the plant “it’s done“ and start dropping leaves ( which further reduces photosynthesis ).  Getting “maturity” at this point can be tricky or impossible. So, the need to be “thinking ahead” must include things like “do I drop fruit” (late summer) so the fruit remaining has a better chance of becoming mature. Obviously, this reduces production, but there is always the decision to “make more “and “make well”. Considerations of “pulling leaves” during the growing period to increase sun exposure (to convert pyrazines “green flavors”) versus sunburn. If one pulls leaves because “ things are cool “, to expose the fruit, that’s all fine unless the weather changes and gets hot and now the fruit can burn or dehydrate.

The Hardest Part Of Being A Winemaker

All the while it is important to be in contact with the vineyard manager to assess their schedule, and their capabilities. During harvest the hours worked are ludicrous and everyone gets pretty fatigued, so the best way of managing all that is to be in contact and schedule.

In the winery, the equipment needs to be cleaned and operated to assure its proper functioning. Winemaking materials, fruit acids, yeasts, nutrients and so forth must be on hand. Barrels should be near delivery (ordered months ahead if coming from Europe).

Thanks for visiting us and leave comments below if you would like to hear more information or if you just have questions for me.  This whole blog is around showing the world what goes into the glass thats in your hand!

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