It’s that time of year where harvest is starting to take place at Blue Mountain Vineyards! Tomorrow, we pick our first grapes for Harvest 2016! We’re starting with Vignoles, then on to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s back-breaking work as we harvest all of our grapes by hand on over 50 acres. Harvest usually takes about 6-8 weeks as the different grapes ripen at different times. In the Northern Hemisphere, harvest is usually between August and October.
Ask any vintner what the most important day of the year is and he will say harvest day. An entire year’s work comes down to the grapes’ ripeness on that one day, for the winemaker has to harvest when they have the ideal sugar content – not too sweet, not too sour; the perfect pH – not too acidic, not too tannic; and the maximum flavor development for the varietal – not vegetal, not sickly sweet.
One of the questions we asked the most is “How do we know the grapes are ready to be picked?” There are technical ways such as measuring sugar, acid, and tannin levels with equipment, such as a refractometer. But with many years of experience, Joe, the winemaker, also knows by the color, feel, and taste of the grape.
COLOR: Ripe grapes have a rich color, changing from green to near-blue purple, deep red, or crisp white, depending on the varietal, as they ripen.
FEEL: Ripe grapes lose a bit of firmness when they ripen, and pop with juice when squeezed. Unripe grapes usually shrivel softly and dribble juice when squeezed.
TASTE: Ripe grapes have developed their full varietal flavor – the flavor the varietal is known for – when they are ready to harvest. For instance, when you taste a ripe chardonnay grape, you experience crisp melon, grass, and a touch of lemon. An unripe chardonnay grape, however, might taste a bit acidic, lightly sour, or overly tannic from underdeveloped sugar content.
The date of harvest is rarely ever the same from one year to the next, so winegrowers must call it as best they can. Pick too early, and tannins may be “green,” or bitter and underdeveloped. Pick too late and, along with the rising risk of fall rain or hail destroying the crop, the sugar levels may get too high, resulting in a flabby, unbalanced wine.
Finally, the style of wine being made also influences the time of harvest. In sparkling wines, high acidity is desirable, so the harvest is early. In dessert wines, by contrast, it’s the sugar that counts and, thus, a late harvest.
Okay…enough with this. Let’s get picking!