Summer is still sweltering, but it won’t be long until another harvest season begins in “wine country” locales all across America.
When a grape is picked is every bit as important as what the winemaker does with it back at the winery. In fact, most vintners agree that the timing of the picking is the most important factor in the ultimate quality of the wine.
There is a point in the maturation of a grape when its accumulation of sugars and its depleting supply of plant acids are optimal. Some vintners utilize a contraption called a refractometer to measure a grape’s sugar content. Others pick based on the taste of the grape, summoning the knowledge gathered over countless harvests past. And still others utilize a combination of science and experience.
Whatever their choice of picking barometer, vintners take the harvest seriously. They know that picking even a few hours late can result in a wine that fails to live up to its full potential. The wine may still be of good quality, but the vintner will forever be haunted by thoughts of what could have been.
This is understandable. After all, making wine is like making bread. But flour, yeast and water are readily available to a baker year-round. Winemakers get only one shot per year at gathering the grapes from which they’ll make their unique elixirs.
The grape harvest can be looked upon as a “transition period” in the winemaking cycle—the time when the grapes are transferred and transformed from the vineyard to the cellar. It is a time of year romanticized by the wine-drinking public, and anxiously anticipated by the farmers and vintners whose livelihoods depend on it. In actual practice, however, harvesting grapes is far from romantic.
Since harvest comes but once a year, all of us who love wine hope that Mother Nature smiles on her vineyards at this crucial stage of the winemaking process.