What is Veraison?

Grapes don’t give a fig if we make wine from them. Like every other species they are only concerned about spreading their DNA hither and yon. Man comes along many millenia after Nature has solved the problem and names the turning of baby green to ripe red – veraison.

The use of color to signify ripeness is manifold in the animal and plant kingdoms. For grapes, the point at which little green berries start to turn into the gorgeous red grapes thatsan veraison lead to gorgeous red wines is, in many ways, the turning point of the season.

In six weeks or so, we will harvest. In between today and then, grapes have already developed the number of cells they will have and those cells will now expand. Skins will start to soften, sugar content will increase, various acids will decrease, and a couple of weeks after the birds have gotten their fill, we will pick for the wines that will sit upon your table three years hence.

Thus the season proceeds, and thus the magic and beauty and hope that is the greatest part of this crazy business.

Hamlet in the Vines

hamletWith apologies to T.S. Eliot, April is not the cruelest month. The cruelest month is any month we have to make a picking decision in the vineyard. This is one of those zero-sum moments in the wine life. You can’t staple clusters back to the vine…once you make the decision to pick, you’ve stuck a pin fast into the timeline, and every hope and dream you have for that wine proceeds from that point forever. THERE IS NO GOING BACK!

It would be a lot less heartburn-inducing if every row (even every block) in a vineyard were the same. You go into a section of the block, taste berries, satisfy yourself that everything is ripe (the seeds are brown, the skins have the right texture and tannin content, and the flavors are spot on) and then pick it out and get on with it. Would that it were.

With every minute change in soil type, water-holding capacity, elevation, aspect of rows, and a million other things, the fundamental nature of the grape from section to section is slightly different. Some of that fruit has the potential to make you swoon…some will not quite reach that height. Then when you factor in outside influences – like a chance of rain a few days down the road – the reality of potential compromises (and the psychic pain those bring) start the waffling machine (to pick or not to pick?).

I’m out right now this morning in our clone 30 block of Cabernet; this is without doubt the most important fruit that we have. I made the decision a few days ago to pick part of the block because I thought the flavors were perfect; the textures of the skins and the seeds were right where they needed to be, so we picked about 20 of the 69 rows.  Right now that fruit is in fermentation bins about to get inoculated with yeasts that I’ve chosen, but the rest of the block, in fact, the vast majority of that block is still left to be picked (and subject, still, to all the vagaries of Mother Nature). The fruit from this block will make up the base of LINEAGE | Livermore Valley, and consequently, it needs to be perfect. So, with rain in the forecast, fermentation space at a premium, other varieties to pick, and the knowledge that my most important wine’s forever rests upon the decision I make right now, I dare say that

Clone 30 Cabernet at crush pad

Clone 30 Cabernet at crush pad

the agonizing can reach Shakespearean proportions.

Postscript: I did pull the picking trigger on another small portion of the block, and at the crush pad, at least, the fruit looked and tasted great. We won’t know for a while, though, whether I was blinded by surface beauty to flaws hidden beneath the skin.