Between the first of August and mid-month, the grape berry stops growing and begins to ripen. This is called veraison, a French word meaning a “color change of the grapes as they ripen.” During this period, the grape berry acquires a softer texture, sugar accumulates, acids decrease (grapes contain natural tartaric and malic acids), the skin color changes, white grapes turn a pale gold/yellow and red grapes darken until they become deep purple-black.
Early maturing varieties such as aurore and chancellor ripen by the end of August, and others like pinot noir ripen mid-September. October will bring on the Riesling, chambourcin, cabernet franc and later-ripening varieties. In September, we will start to measure the sugar in the grapes using a refractometer, an optical device that determines the sugar levels using a brix scale. Readings more than 20 degrees brix at harvest in the Finger Lakes are good numbers. This year, Cornell temperature measurements from the Finger Lakes Grape Program indicate we are about three days ahead of a “normal” or “average” season. Harvest is on the horizon, maybe a few weeks later than last year. 2012 was an unusually hot summer that hastened the grape ripening and brought harvest on several weeks ahead of a typical year. 2013 appears to be more of a typical year. There haven’t been many Japanese beetles this year; they actually might have been helpful with all the rain we’ve had. They could have eaten some of the excessive green growth, and saved us some labor hedging the vines. We are about finished spraying for mildew in the vineyards, as we don’t want to apply sulfur for several weeks before harvest, as the residual sulfur can cause problems in winemaking.
In the winery, we start to make preparation for this year’s crop. The crusher de-stemmer (the machine used to crush the grapes and remove the stems) was tested, and next we’ll clean up the grape press. We ordered a few new tanks used for fermenting and aging the wines. Orders for yeast, yeast nutrients and malolactic cultures will be ordered in the next week or two. For the last three months, we’ve been doing lots of bottling, emptying out oak barrels and stainless steel tanks from past harvests, and making room for the new upcoming wine. We like to do business locally when possible, and get all of our new bottles and corks from the Waterloo Container Co. There are many different styles of bottles for wine. Traditionally Bordeaux-style bottles (straight sides and tall shoulders) are used for dry reds like cabernet franc, and Burgundy-style bottles (gently sloping shoulders and slightly wider) for the pinot noir and Hock-Alsace/Mosel-style bottles (slender, narrow and tall) for our Rieslings. The standard size for a wine bottle is 750 milliliters, or three-quarters of a liter. We also do a limited production of our semi-dry Riesling in a magnum bottle of 1.5 liters, which equals two 750-millileter bottles! I recently found a listing of all the possible different size wine bottles — 22 varieties ranging from 187 milliliters to 30 liters!
As we approach the fall, get out and tour the local Finger Lakes vineyards and wineries and see the changing colors of the grapes and taste the fine wine made right here in our backyard!