Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Year in the World of a Wine Grape

The Vineyards of Alexander Valley Vineyards.  Photo by Kat Thomas.
As Edible Skinny starts delving into the world of our Vines and Vinos tour we thought it might be a great time to explore a little bit of what makes the stuff in the bottle so great!  There's a lot that goes into making a bottle of wine (one 750ml bottle contains 630 grapes or 2.4 lbs of grapes) and every step of the process is important.   So here it is: a year in the world of a wine grape!

WEEPING  When temperatures rise to 50 degrees in early spring (usually around February), sap begins to concentrate where the canes were pruned.   This leaking sap, called weeping, is the initial indication that the wonderful wonderful wine is waking up from its winter sleep.

BUD BREAK  Twenty to thirty days following the initial weeping (March-April) small buds on the vine appear and open.  This is referred to as the bud break.  This is considered a happy (but stressful) time for winemakers.  This is because a late spring frost can be disastrous; destroying the young tender buds and any hope of harvest in a single day.

EARLY GRAPE GROWTH  During mid-April, shoots, leaves, and tiny green clusters start to develop on the vine. 

FLOWERING  The vine continues to grow and after (about) 8 weeks bud break, the green clusters develop into flowers which then bloom into mature grapes.  The flowers only last about ten days during the entire annual cycle of the vine.  During flowering the vine is at its most sensitive time during its annual life cycle.   Like during the bud break, weather can have an incredible adverse impact on the delicate flowers and a good yield harvest.

FRUIT SET  From June to July, each flower develops into a grape.  Usually, this is when weeding, spraying, pests, and diseases, and summer pruning happens, as the grape continues to mature.

Cyrus by Alexander Valley Vineyards.
VERAISON  In August-ish, the grapes swell in size and change color from green to yellow (for white wine) and black (for red wine).  This maturing process is known as veraison.  During veraison, the winemaker often directs pruning of the leaves around the grapes to increase the air circulation which helps prevent rot.  Prior to veraison, the grapes are considered immature and taste sour.  As veraison begins the sugar in the grape goes from zero to sixty.

HARVEST (aka CRUSH)  Typically, harvest occurs around one-hundred days following the flowering phase (late August to October).  Each winemaker makes his decision to harvest based on the sugar and acid levels of grape samples, along with the tannin maturity.  White grapes are typically harvested prior to red wine grapes so as to help retain higher acidity in the white wines.  Harvesting by hand is considered superior to machines because it is more gentle and accurate (but ultimately more expensive).

PRUNING  Following the harvest, leaves on the vines fall off.  This is when the vine is pruned.   Pruning helps protect the vines from cold winter temperatures and helps save energy during the dormant phase of the annual cycle.  Pruning is a very important phase of the annual cycle of the vine as it helps determine how the vine will come back in the springtime for the weeping cycle.

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