When you live in the middle of a vineyard, you mark each season with milestones that are directly connected with your livelihood--grapes. We're excited because veraison [pronounced "verr-ray-zohn"] has hit the majority of the varietals planted in 'n around our home. Simply put, veraison is the onset of ripening of those delicious berries, and signals that we're headed towards harvest. It represents the transition from berry growth on the vine to berry ripening.
For viticulturalists, it means that the vine has shifted its focus from energy creation [through photosynthesis] to energy consumption, directing the vine into making those baby grapes sweet. Before veraison occurs, the wine grapes are small, hard, highly acidic, and green-colored due to the level of chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll is replaced by anthocyanins [changing the berry color from vibrant green to luscious red in red varietals], polyphenols develop to protect the berries from sun, wine and other stresses that generally occur in the vineyard prior to harvest.
During this period in the growth cycle, grapes begin to dramatically increase in size and the sugar level [glucose and fructose, which is measured in Brix] rises. Conversely, the acid level begins to fall, and continues to do so as the sugar level rises until the grapes are deemed to be perfectly balanced and ready for harvest. And while red grapes begin to change color, white grapes transform into a lovely golden shade of yellow, or even become somewhat translucent.
Once veraison occurs, grapes are usually harvested within 40-70 days, depending upon the style of the wine to be produced and the grape varietal. It's as if a switch is flipped in each grapevine, and the countdown to harvest begins. It's an exciting time for both growers and wineries.
Vineyard owners will focus their growing effort on either removing bunches in order to modify vine balance and ensure that the remaining bunches receive the needed nutrients and sugars from the roots. Or, the farmer may thin and/or remove leaves from the vine in order to improve the amount of sunlight and airflow that the bunches receive.
As you drive around the vineyards in and around Lodi, take notice of the change in the color of the vines as our beautiful grapes begin to darken [or glow]. Our hot sunny days mean that the grapes are enjoying the heat and developing those delicious, juicy berries--just ripe for the picking!