Since the beginning of spring, the grape vines have been slowly, but surely, doing their thing. Ever since we pruned, back in the middle of winter, I’ve been waiting for that first touch of green to arrive on the vines. And finally, it did!
At first it was the tiniest hint of green:
… and after a little bit longer, we had this:
And where are we up to now? Well, the grape vines are no longer just showing a hint of green – in fact, it’s hard to spot the actual vine underneath all the foliage!
That’s a (rather stern!) photo of one of our owners, Robyn, who took me on a brief tour around the vineyard yesterday. I was asking quite a few questions about what’s happening in the vineyard – being the newbie that I am, I got quite excited to see the grapes growing on the vines, and was a bit indignant when I saw the vineyard workers pulling every second bunch off the Merlot vines!
As it turns out, there was a good reason for this. It’s known as ‘green harvesting’, but we call it bunch thinning (as does almost everyone else!). By cutting off every second or so bunch of immature green grapes, this induces the vine to put its remaining energy into the rest of the grapes – resulting in a more healthy, vigorous bunch! It originally seemed a waste to me (all this potential wine!) but Robyn explained it perfectly – we don’t necessarily need all the juice that these extra grapes will produce, but what we do need, we want to be strong and robust – not weak and diluted.
Robyn then showed me some of our Pinot Noir vines. Now I (along with anyone else who has watched ‘Sideways’) is aware that the Pinot Noir grape is difficult to grow. It’s a little like Goldilocks – it doesn’t like it too hot, but it also doesn’t like it too cold. It has a tendency to over crop (meaning it grows too many bunches), and so it needs its bunches trimmed in a similar fashion to the Merlot.
What really excited me when we visited the Pinot Noir vines was this:
“Look, they’re turning purple!” I said. “But why are they purple if the Merlot grapes are still unripe and green?”.
Robyn looked at me like the true amatuer that I am, and proceeded to explain the obvious: that different grapes ripen at a different pace. In our case, our Pinot Noir and our Chardonnay will ripen first, followed by everything else in dribs and drabs. She also told me that this ‘colouring’ of the grapes actually has a technical term: veraison. Veraison means, ‘the onset of ripening’, and is a good indicator that vintage is not far off. In our case, Robyn estimated it will still be close to a month or so before these grapes are ready.
My final question for Robyn was regarding the weather: what we hoped for in terms of weather over the next month or so. Her response was that she wanted close to no rain, because this would lessen the chance of pests and disease, but also because water could potentially dilute the flavour of the grapes. But, additionally, she wouldn’t like a string of days over 40 degrees – fussy! At this stage, we’ve had a bit of rain, but nothing too damaging. I’ll keep updating this over the next few weeks, as we get closer to vintage – it’s always exciting to work in a winery around this time!