Right now winemakers are keeping their fingers crossed and praying for a good, healthy, dry harvest. It all starts in the vineyard, of course, making sure there are no signs of rot or other disease on the leaves and newly forming berries. One must be constantly vigilant, particularly when there is a cool, wet spring, that can foster these types of problems.
Wet, humid weather is also a factor. Locally there has been a great deal of rain in many areas so far this season, and the hope will be that the rain will not be a factor as harvest comes closer. Generally speaking, the dryer the weather during harvest, the better the quality of the grapes. Dry weather leads to higher sugar content, more intense, concentrated flavor, healthier fruit, and smaller berries. Those smaller berries are especially desirable with the red grapes as the results should be deeper color in the resulting wine since the juice-to-skin ratio is smaller. You might be unaware that all of the color comes from the skins. The juice of all grapes is actually mostly without color.
Another, rather tedious job, is the pulling off of some of the leaves from the plants. The larger volume of rain this year has made the plants more lush and full. That really looks nice but it is a problem for the ripening fruit. It is important to have good airflow through the vines so that the leaves and berries stay dry and do not become susceptible to mold or rot. In order to accomplish this, the leaves from around each of the bunches need to be removed.
Another difficult task (at least it is for me because I want to cry) will be to remove a portion of the grapes so the other grapes will be richer and more intense and ripen better. I have always found this task hard to do because so many beautiful grapes get removed. But over-cropping the vines will lead to weak flavored, thin, and very ordinary wine. It is like so many other artistic endeavors … there needs to be a little suffering in order to get the best of the best and this practice increases the quality greatly.
In the meantime, the winemaker is already making decisions as to what types of yeasts, nutrients, enzymes and other products they will want to use to make the best possible wine that can be made. The orders for these products will be placed in late July to early August in order to assure they have what they need when those grapes decide to ripen and be ready to harvest.
In the winery, preparations are being made to accept the new harvest. Wines from the previous year, or wines that have been properly aging, will now be bottled. All of the equipment, i.e. press, pumps, crusher-stemmer, valves, gaskets, tanks, hoses, etc., will be inspected to make sure they are fully ready and operational once those grapes show up. Being a perishable product, it would be quite a disaster to not have equipment working properly when the grapes are already picked.
It seems like the growing season goes by in a flash, every year more quickly (or maybe that has something to do with my age). Before we know it, the wineries will all be cranking up their operations. In the meantime, we pray that Mother Nature will be kind to us this year.
Linda King is a winemaker as well as an internationally-certified wine judge, and does consulting for various wineries in the industry.