As I was walking through a Pinot Noir vineyard in our Russian River Valley, I marveled at the beauty of yet another stage in the life of the vineyard. Veraison is being seen all around Sonoma’s Wine Country.
Veraison is a critical turning point in the life of wine and a very exciting time in the vineyard. Veraison (Ver-ay-shon) a French word that has become known as the beginning of ripening. This is when the sugar levels in wine grapes begin to rise and the acid levels fall. The grape varieties used to produce red wines begin to turn various shades of purple, and white varieties begin to turn to a yellow green hue as the berries soften. This year, as last year veraison has come a week to two weeks early. Since harvest usually follows around six weeks after the beginning of veraison, it looks like we will experience another early beginning to harvest this year.
Veraison is also a time when you notice a greater presence of birds especially in years of drought. As food sources are scarce the vineyards and their grape clusters become more vulnerable. You find all kinds of deterrents being used to deter birds such as netting, reflective mylar, spinning pie pans and more. Even digital recordings of distressed and alarmed birds.
Walking through the vineyard you will also notice a subtle slowing of the of the leaves and shoots as the vines use most of their resources for the grape clusters and their ripening. It’s amazing, the vine knows its time to stop growing leaves and start focusing on the grapes. The grapes have a lot of changes going on besides just color. Although some flavors are indeed developed prior to veraison, it is this time that is important to flavor development. Grapes are now starting to taste like wine grapes. As the colors change and the berries soften, as I mentioned earlier the seeds are changing and much more is taking place. At this point if one tasted grapes off the same cluster you would find various differences. The more mature grape with more color change would taste more like the wine grape, while a grape on the same cluster less mature would be much more bitter. This is because of those sugar levels in wine grapes on the rise and the acid levels falling. The goal is to hit that sweet spot where the wine grape has the right amount of acid that gives you that mouth feel for food pairing, while just sweet enough, yet not too sweet. The bottom line is veraison is about the development of that character, flavors and complexity that the wine grape will possess come harvest.
Remember for information on wine terms such as Veraison check out our glossary as well as our other resources on wine.