Harvest 2011 – Week 1 – Going through Veraison

Now I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself…Grapes can not be being harvested already.  So what’s this week 1 thing all about you ask???  I count the first week in August every year as week 1 of a 16 week harvest season.  Week 16 falls in the middle of November by which time normally all the grapes are in and most of the active primary fermentations are complete.  These weeks are critical in the development process because the weather and decisions made in this time frame between veraison and the end of primary fermentation have the most impact on the final wine quality. 


Back to Week 1!  Right now many of the early varieties are going through veraison.  This is the change in color and softening of the berry skins which signals about 4 weeks to the harvest date.  For white wine grapes veraison reveals a thinning of the skin and a yellow (sometimes gold) color taking place of the bright green that they’ve been all season.  For reds this thinning and softening is accompanied by the previously green bunches changing to their own particular hue of red or black depending on the variety.  While on the Central Coast last week, I saw Pinot Gris that was already fully through veraison and Pinot Noir that was well on its way.  Here in the North Coast, Sauvignon Blanc is softening and the first signs of red are beginning to show in the Pinot Noir. 


To me, the weather looks fantastic! So far it’s been a long, cool growing season with forecasted temperatures in the low 90s for the next two weeks.  Grapes ripen most efficiently around 94° F (depending on variety of course).  This is the temperature where all the photosynthetic processes in the vine work to their optimum speed converting sunlight to sugar and flavor precursors.  However the nights are remaining cool which slows the acid degradation process to retain crisp acids to balance the sugar accumulation.  While we did have the nasty weather during bloom which has impacted crop yield, the weather so far this year looks positive for quality.  With the reduced crop yield and the fully optimized vines it may be that we’ll see an almost on time harvest this season but that is highly dependant on the weather in the next few weeks. 


I’m always amused when I hear fellow winemakers talk about wanting to get back to a normal harvest.  This will be my 9th harvest this year and I’ve never heard anyone refer to any year as a normal year during the harvest season.  After it’s over you hear people in the industry refer to “classic” years or normal seasons however it seems to me that a lack of seasonal normality is normal.  That’s what makes this job fun! It’s never the same even when it looks like it might be. 


I’m looking forward to week 2-16.  I’m going to do my best to post weekly updates to keep you updated as to how they are going for us here at Asti Winery.

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