Harvesting Approaches, by Dan Berger
Here in wine country, where the weather always turns warm or hot at this time of year, everything is in a heightened state of frenzy.
The wine industry is truly a 365 day a year business, and in Napa and Sonoma counties, which represent a tiny fraction of the wine produced in all 50 states, the business is extremely stressful because there are so many money invested in it. .
None of these popular wine regions has recently had a disastrous vintage. The last disaster was in 1972, when it rained so hard that harvest crews struggled to stand in the mud while trying to harvest grapes that were unlikely to produce good wine.
Since then there have been vintage variations, but nothing significant, although many wine collectors like to debate the difference between 1979 and 1980, even if the differences are extremely subtle.
In July, the grapes entered that stage of development called “véraison” – the coloring that is so vital to every varietal, white or red. The coloring of the grapes is important because it initiates the process of aroma maturation so essential to making good wine what it is.
In August, a few early grape varieties will reach sufficient maturity to be harvested. The former are usually grapes that make sparkling wines, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These varieties are harvested extremely early, mainly because sparkling wines do not require intense flavors as much as high acidity.
The rest of the grapes will make table wine. They stay on the vine to achieve more flavor intensity. Some will be harvested by hand while others will be picked mechanically – and there remains debate among some wineries as to the best process.
White grapes will generally be harvested earlier, and they will not be crushed but pressed to obtain juice. The juice should be protected from air as much as possible to avoid oxidation. It will end up in a fermentation vessel, yeast will be added and bubbles will soon appear.
When this fermentation ends, either completely dry or when the winemaker stops it to allow the wine to retain a little sugar, it is then treated to remove impurities and then bottled.
Red wine grapes will end up in a crusher, mostly without the stems (which could add bitterness) and then ferment with their skins on, where all the flavor is.
Rosé wines are made through a specific and distinct process that changes from winery to winery. It’s really a completely separate process; it’s certainly not just a mixture of white and red!
The frenzy of activity at all wineries over the past few weeks includes bottling the previous year’s vintages to free up fermentation tanks and oak barrels to give winemakers places to put the wines that will come from of the vineyard, thus creating the wines of the 2022 vintage.
When a bottling line breaks down this time of year, the most important person on the winemaking team is the one who can fix the line! What if that person is unavailable due to illness? The result is lots of wrinkled eyebrows, white hair and aspirin.
This period also requires reliable trucks to transport the grapes, so fleet maintenance in the weeks leading up to harvest is at its peak, and every system in the winery is tested time and time again to avoid disaster at the time. arrival of the grapes.
This includes testing the cooling jackets that surround white wine fermenters. White wines must be fermented fresh; hot fermentation produces potential disasters.
The wines of 2022 won’t be seen for several months (some won’t be for years!), but the work that went into them is rarely mentioned.
To learn more about Sonoma County resident Dan Berger, and to read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: leohau at Pixabay