The Northern Grapevine

Excitement in the Vineyard

We are well into the first of the two most exciting times in the vineyard, veraison. Veraison is a French term that means the beginning of ripening. This is when our “red” grapes begin to change color from green to a deep purple and our “white” grapes change from green to golden amber. The onset of veraison is exciting for a few reasons. First, grape berries become much more resistant to many grape diseases once veraison occurs. That is a relief to grape growers, especially in years like this one when we had seemingly endless, fungus-feeding, downpours of rain in June and early July. Second, the color change, and an associated aroma change, is like a dinner bell to every grape-eating bird, and raccoon in the area. So, the worry about disease gets replaced by the worry about grape-eating pests. But, the main reason veraison is exciting is that it signals that we will have grapes to harvest and make wine with. The long days of pruning, training, suckering, shoot combing, lateral thinning and weed control begin to seem worth it.

Marquette grapes at veraison

Harvest is the other most exciting time of the year in the vineyard, and also the winery. We hand pick all our grapes with the help of friends, family and neighbors. It is a period of intense activity because we want to harvest the grapes as quickly as possible once they are fully ripe. Last year (2012) we picked about four tons of grapes of four varieties from an acre of our vineyard. With many hands making light work, we got the job done in two days, September 8th and 9th. This year we have three acres to harvest. My best estimate is that we will have 10 – 15 tons of grapes to harvest this year IF the weather continues to cooperate. Weather is always the wild card in any kind of farming, including growing grapes. Remember tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011? They turned an abundant crop of beautiful fruit into a fungus-riddled, yellow jacket-bitten mess. But, ever the optimist, I expect we’ll have warm sunny days, cool nights and just the right amount of rain from now until harvest.

Timing of harvest is dictated by ripening of the grapes. Beginning next week we’ll start taking weekly juice samples and analyze them for sugar content, pH and acidity. By monitoring those three parameters we can tell how the grapes are ripening and predict when the right balance among sugar, pH and acid will occur. We also use the data generated by our vineyard weather station to monitor accumulation of growing degree days (GDD). Recent research conducted by the Northern Grapes Project has shown that accumulated GDDs is a really good predictor of ripeness. Of course we will also taste a few grapes, chewing the skins and looking at the color of the seeds to confirm what the data is telling us, or at least to make this whole business more fun. My best guess, based on GDDs, is that we will be picking grapes on the weekends of September 7-8, and/or 14-15 and/or 21-22. That’s when our legion of volunteer pickers, the “Crush Crew,” will descend on Victory View Vineyard for some hard work, great camaraderie, and wonderful local food served up by Spoonful Catering. Let us know if you would like to join in – we’re going to need all the help we can get to pick those three acres!

Watch for our next post about our harvest crush crew.