Winemaking is for the Birds
As we head towards harvest, our winemaking focus is acutely attuned to what’s taking place in the vineyards. We’re seeking our Holy Grail. The elusive phenomenon of perfect ripeness. There is no single indicator of ripeness, but rather a whole gamut of processes taking place in the highly complex, living, breathing organism that is a grapevine. All of which contribute to the overall ripeness and quality of the fruit. Deciding when the fruit is ready to pick is possibly the single most important (and sometimes the toughest) decision we make all year.
Grapevines, like all flowering plants, are pretty cunning when it comes to ripening their fruit. Ripening is stage-managed by the vine to attract birds to eat the grapes and disperse the seeds. The purpose is to ensure the future of the species. (Not to assist winemakers to make wine!) In the wild all grapes turn red when they’re ripe. It’s much harder for a bird to see green grapes on the vine, a camouflage ploy by the vine to protect seeds that are not yet ready. Unripe grapes don’t taste too good either. The acid is high, the sugar is low, the tannins are bitter.
As the grapes start ripening, a whole lot of changes are taking place. The colour changes from green to purple, the sugar increases, the acid decreases, the tannins mature and the flavours develop at exactly the appropriate time that the seeds are ripe and ready to be scattered. It’s a way of not only attracting little winged helpers, but also a way to reward them for their efforts with a delicious feast.
Perfect timing is of the essence. It’s all one big balancing act on our part, trying to find that elusive moment where the stars align.
As winemakers, we make a distinction between sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness. Physiological ripeness incorporates all the changes going on within the grape, but most notably the changes in flavour as the fruit develops. We’re talking depth of flavour as well as the change from ‘greener’ unripe flavours to riper characters. We also look at the ripeness of the skins, seeds, stalks and tannins. Each element follows its own path towards ripeness at its own rate, and this varies from season to season.
Physiological ripeness is an ideal (and somewhat subjective) rather than definitive stage. It’s often a trade-off to get the best balance of all attributes available in a particular season without getting too high a sugar level (which will determine the wine’s final alcohol) or going past optimum ripeness. And of course we also have Mother Nature to contend with (so far this season she’s looking pretty happy).
That’s why, at this time of year, you’ll find us out in the vineyards – more and more often as we get closer to picking – tasting grapes. And tasting more grapes. Once they’re picked, grapes are at their highest potential. We can’t increase the quality after that. We can only gently coax them into becoming the very best wine possible. Perfect timing is of the essence. It’s all one big balancing act on our part, trying to find that elusive moment where the stars align so that, fingers crossed, we can bring you guys the very best wine.