We're almost ready to harvest the 2016 vintage, and we couldn't be more excited about the quality of this year's crop! During this time of year, you start hearing the word veraison quite often, that word, veraison, brings up feeling of excitement, anticipation and, sometimes, anxiety. Veraison is originally a French term that describes the process of grape berries changing color.
After the Summer Solstice in June, the days start slowly becoming shorter and shorter. These shorter days signal the vines they need to switch from growing clusters to ripening them. As the grapes begin to ripen, they start to turn from green to black and begin accumulating sugar. Right now, our Hallberg Ranch vineyard is at about 90% veraison, which means most of the clusters have already turned dark purple in color.
Once Veraison starts, there are a couple of factors that our vineyard team must look out for. First, they have to make sure all the clusters are ripening at nearly the same rate. Once 80% of the fruit has undergone veraison the vineyard team will start to cut off the overly green clusters. They call this ‘green thinning’ and it will help ensure the fruit matures evenly. During green thinning the crew is also looking for clusters that are lying on top of one another, having clusters that close creates an area for moisture to collect and breed fungus.
Another factor to be aware of is natural nearby predators, such as the birds. As the grapes ‘sugar up’ they become an attractive food to birds, in fact, this is how a vine reproduces in nature, by having birds disperse their seeds. In order to protect the ripening clusters from hungry birds a lot of vineyards will have bird netting draped over the vines. Our Pinot Hill Vineyard is the only vineyard in which we use bird netting. Our Hallberg Ranch and William Wesley Vineyards are naturally protected by larger birds, like hawks and owls that help to keep the smaller birds out.
As veraison reaches completion, the entire grape clusters will have transformed from a rosey color to all black. The conclusion of this process is an indicator to our vineyard Manager, Kirk, that harvest is only about 3 ½ - 4 weeks away. And it’s an exciting time for our Winemaker, Nicolas, to start tasting the berries and testing their brix level to determine exactly when to pick. Overall, veraison is a critical turning point in the vineyard and it’s a very exciting time for us since it means harvest is just around the corner!
Here is a look at the Hallberg Ranch vineyard as it goes through veraison: