Each year as summer winds down the vineyards approach that critical stage when the harvest season takes the grapes from the field into the winery.
[dropcap]V[/dropcap]eraison is the term for grape ripening, where the fruit hanging on the vines transforms from small, green, hard berries into what we recognize as grapes. Vines enter this stage about 30 to 70 days after the fertilized flowers have fallen off and become tiny grape bunches, mostly in July or August in the Northern Hemisphere and January or February in the Southern. This doesn’t occur for all varieties of grapes at the same time, and different weather patterns cause it to change each season. This year conditions on the west coast of the US have the harvest season starting almost a month earlier than usual. It becomes very tricky as to when to pick the grapes, too much rain during harvest will cause the grapes to swell and the resulting wine will be thin and watery. Waiting too long could cause the grapes to over-ripen and risk certain molds and disease affecting them. Acidity can also go lower as grapes continue to ripen, and tanins and flavor compounds will change. Ultimately, winegrowers are seeking a good balance between the sugars, acidity, tannins and flavor compounds.
All the methods that the growers use to protect the grapes and pick them at just the right time are crucial for the winemaker, who takes harvested berries and works his craft to produce the best wine possible. The wine is an expression of three things: first and foremost, is the “terrior” or the earth it came from, next is the care and skill that the farmer or “vigneron” gives to nourish and care for the grapes as they grow and are harvested, and third is the winemaker who applies his skill to transform the grapes into wine and then age it until bottling. While it is true that the weather and conditions change each year to make a good “vintage” or not, those less desirable years can be overcome at wineries that utilize the best growers and winemakers to adapt and compensate to adverse conditions. That is why, even in bad years, the top estates in the US and abroad can make great wines. The number of cases made may dwindle, but the quality standards they have set assure the wine will be good.
So our job as consumers is to take the finished product, match it with the right food, friends and occasion, and enjoy it in good health. Isn’t it nice that our part in the grape’s journey back to the soil can be so rewarding to our senses and well-being. As an example of a wellmade wine that goes with fall harvest foods, I offer Apremont, produced by Pierre Boniface’s winery in the French alpine region of Savoie. The grape is a lesser known one called Jacquère. It is light and dry and has the faintest hint of effervescence. It pairs well with chicken, fish, cheeses and the abundance of mildly flavored vegetables coming at this time of year. Cheers.