July in the Vineyard: Veraision– When Grapes Get Their Color On!

Veraision on the Clos des Amis Pinot Noir, South Mountain Vineyard, Santa Paula, CA; photo by Gwendolyn Alley

I’m in Tanzania with The Roof of Africa Adventures  preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, go on safari, visit a coffee plantation, and maybe even stop by a vineyard and tastes some wines. I might even attend the “International Conference on Energy, Aquatech and Sustainability” organized by The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology which is happening in Arusha, where I have been staying, Monday August 12.

I may be on vacation, but back home in southern California, it’s full speed ahead toward harvest as grapes go through VERAISION.

Yep, just like everyone else, summertime is sun time, and sun time means getting some color on your skin!

While June’s vineyard report and vocabulary word was ETIOLATION — and something you DON’T want happening in your vineyard, you DO want verasion because this is the word that signifies that the grapes are turning from GREEN to RED and they are ripening up!

That’s right– all red wines start out looking like green grapes.

After bud break, verasion is the second most exciting moment in the vineyard — except for maybe that moment when you decide the grapes are ready to be picked!

Veraision is when the grapes stop being all about growing bigger and begin being all about growing sweeter!

According to Wikipedia, no one knows what triggers veraision. But as Jason Haas observes about his syrah in Paso Robles west side, that while July was HOT up there, this year is late up there as well — as late as in 2010 which was also a HUGE rain year.

While we may not know why for sure when veraision happens, we are grateful that it does because acidity goes down as malic acid breaks down and allows tartaric acid to dominate; unsurprisingly, grape berries also contain citric acid.  As acid decreases, cells take on less water and may even slightly dehydrate, hexose sugars like glucose and fructose increase the sugar concentration– as much as 25%! The amount of sugar is also related to photosynthesis by the grape leaves. The changes from acidic to sweet also changes the aroma to a fruity one and certain aromas are maintained while others degrade.

Wikipedia says that the berries change color as chlorophyll is broken down: white cultivars form carotenoids and red cultivars develop anthocyanins and xanthophylls.

Yes that means that white wine grapes go through veraision as well — it just isn’t as dramatic! But to the schooled eye, you will see the green grapes go yellow.

Pinot Noir often shows version first; here’s the end row at South Mountain Vineyard in Santa Paula with winemaker Gretel and Brody checking out the progress of the fruit in early July.

A warm muggy day in early July found Gretel and I in the South Mountain vineyard admiring the first signs of versaision in the pinot noir clusters, especially those on the edge of the vineyard.

 

Verasion is that moment when red wine grapes which start out green get their color on.

As you can see from these clusters, it happens a few grapes at a time until they are all ripe and ready to be picked. Some varieties ripen super unevenly, making it a challenge to know when to pick them– you don’t want them too ripe because those sugars will convert into alcohol and the wine will unbalanced. And you don’t want them underripe either– the wine will be too acidic!

Fine nets wait below the vines for their important turn in the vineyard: they protect the fruit from being enjoyed by birds and other beasts.

The sight of the red fruit and the sweet smell triggers other task: pulling up the nets that have been waiting along the rows of the vines that will deter the birds as well as four legged beasts from harvesting the hard won fruit.

 

Verasion is that time of hope: when all of the work so far in the vineyard – all of the pruning, suckering, deleafing, weed abatement, and more comes to fruition – literally you can see it.

 

And it reminds you that it’s time to get ready for harvest! At Clos des Amis this month it meant bottling two blends: the 50-50 and the GSM (aka Grenache Mourvedre and Syrah) so those barrels are empty and there is more room in the winery for the new vintage.

Barrels need to be prepared too which includes hydrating them as shown in this photo from the Clos des Amis facebook page:

photo courtesy of Clos des Amis

If Jason Haas is right, and harvest happens about six weeks or so after veraision, August will be all about getting the harvest in and processed! Lots to do to get everything cleaned and ready in the meantime!

Subscribe and stay tuned for what happens next! Between traveling in Tanzania, and back to school and harvest when I return, I’m going to be a bit busy but I do have posts lined up about:

  • A Four Course Meal Paired with 4 wines from North East Italy for #ItalianFWT by Sat. August 3
  • Some New Zealand Sauv Blan with home made Arugula Kale pesto for #WinePW by Sat. August 10
  • 2 Prosecco with a summery salad and dessert for Prosecco Day which is Weds. August 14
  • we’ll be joining the Winophiles for wine and food of the French Basque Region by Sat. August 17

There’s a few more in draft I hope to wrap up on my long flights back home (two around 10 hours each!) And I’ll probably have a post or two about Tanzania food, beverages, and travel for you as well!

Wine Predator Gwendolyn Alley checking out veraision at Sanford Winery in the Santa Rita Hills in 2014. Photo by George Rose.

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