Sept 2015- Harvest and Winery Trips
Harvest: the Winemaker's Perspective
By Gabriel Miller
The leaves may still be green and we haven’t yet escaped the heat completely, but none the less summer is quietly slipping away. As sad as that may sound, the fast approaching fall season comes bearing many gifts and soon it will be time for harvest. Our lives here at the winery are intrinsically tied to the cyclical nature of the vines we tend. We watch as the vineyards wake up from their winter naps, as the small buds on the knotty branches swell and burst. We cross our fingers and wait to make sure no late frosts will rob our vines of their precious new shoots. We patiently monitor as the vines create small flower clusters that will eventually become our prized fruit. Finally we guide our small berries to ripeness as we prepare to take our vines bountiful gift and use it to create captivating wines that express the beauty and wonder of the vineyards from which they come. As harvest fast approaches, we look back at what Mother Nature has given us and we look forward to the transformation and new beginnings that this fruit will experience on its way to becoming wine.
In the autumn harvest season, we must be diligent and we must be patient. This can be a hard balance to strike, as at any time we may be called to action, but we must not act too soon. The grape berries begin life as hard and small bright green balls of acid, but over the summer they will begin to swell in size and change colors. This stage in the yearly cycle is call veraison and it typically signals the beginning of the end for the growing season. Once the berries have changed color, we will start to monitor the fruit for ripeness. To determine the ripeness of the fruit we look at three things, the sugar content, the acidity, and possibly most importantly, the flavor. In this endeavor, patience is paramount, as we do not want to pick under ripe fruit, but once balance has been achieved between these three components, the call to harvest is made. At this point, the pace quickens, as the optimal ripeness window is short, and delays can lead to overripe and out of balance fruit. During this period, we are also battling other elements of nature such as rain storms that can push back ripening, birds and animals which can heavily reduce the crop, and the dreaded molds and mildews that can rapidly ruin all the fruit across an unprotected vineyard.
The transformation from fruit hanging on the vine to wine in the glass starts the moment the clusters are cut from the plant. Harvested fruit must be processed as fast as possible in order to retain the best flavors and to prevent creating faults in the wine. The grapes are picked early in the morning when the temperatures are at their coolest and they are immediately crushed for fermentation. Even though it is very early in the winemaking process, there is a great satisfaction watching the freshly crushed grapes as they progress toward the wine tanks. White grapes are immediately pressed into juice to lesson contact time with their skins before fermentation. Red grapes are crushed and left on the skins to absorb color and tannin during fermentation. Once the processing of the fruit has finished, we can start fermentation and aging stage which will last throughout the winter.
Fall is a season of transformation. As the summer wanes and the days grow shorter and cooler, we leave behind the growing season and we reflect on the riches nature has given us. With the passage of the fruit phase, we move to toward the new beginnings of the wines we create. It can be bittersweet to say goodbye to another summer, but the rewards of fall and the promises of a future spring bring us joy and satisfaction here at the vineyard.