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Journey to Harvest: 08/01/2014

Veraison – not just another vocabulary word

Veraison is already rampant in the Zinfandels at Indian Springs Ranch at the end of July. Photo by Jay Gamel .
At this time of year you hear the word a lot in conversations between grape growers and winemakers – “Have you hit veraison yet?” It’s a big deal in the vineyard as it’s the time of the growing season when all parts of the vine get new assignments. Hello leaves – stop making carbohydrates, and start making sugar. We need two grams of sugar per leaf delivered to the grape bunches by mid-September. Roots – listen up, you’re not off the hook. Your assignment is to dig deeply for any available moisture. Don’t tell me about droughts. Dig! The rest of the vine – focus all available resources on the grape bunches. In particular, focus on developing good seeds. After all, our whole future as a vine family depends on super seeds. Go for it!

Walking through the vineyard these weeks you can almost sense the tension as each vine takes up the challenge. For years I thought the word veraison meant specifically and only this point of seasonal grape vine transition. But a few years ago we had some French visitors who told me, “George, the word literally means ‘getting ready.’” Suddenly it all made sense.

To make this all fit I have asked our “spokesvines” – Marie for our Sauvignon Blanc and Javier for our Zinfandel – to explain how the process affects them from the vine’s point of view.

First let’s hear from Marie

Que magnifique le veraison! We sense the onset of veraison by our individual grapes suddenly growing in diameter. Soon all our berries will be big enough so that the individual berries are actually touching each other. We call this “bunch closure.” Our once-opaque green berries are slowly changing to a light golden turquoise green. By harvest the berries will be full-grown grapes, beautifully translucent so you can see the shadow of our two or three seeds when held to the light. Our Patron has wasted hours trying to capture this with no success. The camera just cannot catch this beauty.

At the onset of veraison the grower with a sharp pocket knife can slice through one of our berries and cut right through the light green seeds. Later the seeds will turn hard and dark brown, and will dodge the knife edge.

I must add a note about the Photosynthesis Union. The leaves will only do their thing if the temperature is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If all is going well through photosynthesis, our leaves will begin to ship sugar to our grapes, and our juice which was super tart will begin to have a hint of sweetness. We need the Photosynthesis Union’s support over the coming six weeks to get our sugar level up to 22-23 brix in time for harvest.

Javier’s veraison story

I don’t know how magnifique veraison is. Sounds to me like just a lot of hard work for us vines. We of course follow much the same path as Marie and her Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Old Patron and his sons seem excited when they find the first two or three of our Zinfandel grapes showing a pinkish purple hue. Then they drive up and down our rows on their ATVs looking to find more. This color will gradually spread until the entire bunch is a deep purple-blue-black color. Year after year, around July 25 is usually when the Patron discovers a few grapes like this. This year the Patron found the first colored grapes around the 5th of July. Translating all this, harvest should be two to three weeks early.

We Zinfandel bunches don’t have an easy journey from veraison to ripeness. We can easily develop bunch rot if our bunches are touching or entwined with other. The Patron is always on top of this though, and sends the men through to carefully separate each bunch so that each has a home of its own. We Zinfandel also tend not to ripen uniformly. But if this is the case, the men return before harvest to carefully cut out any small clusters of still-green grapes. We don’t mind all this attention. It’s what lets our grapes turn into great wine.

And finally we conclude

... with even more good news. For our first 25 years growing grapes here we sold exclusively to Kenwood Winery. We are now in process of signing a new grape contract with Kenwood and their new owner. When son Richard and I went over to Kenwood a week or so ago to discuss the details of all this, it was so emotional, as if we were returning home again from a long absence. So many familiar faces and scenes.

Owner, Indian Springs Ranch and Vineyards

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