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!
Once the "sparkling" wine has undergone secondary fermentation and the winemaker determines that it is appropriately balanced, it's time to begin the preparatory process of lees removal. Lees are the deposits of residual yeast, or sediment left inside the length of the bottle. In order to displace the sediment and move it into the neck of the bottle, the bottles must undergo a process known as riddling. During this stage, the bottles are placed inside metal cages, These cages are then attached to the arms of a riddling rack.
The process of riddling proceeds by carefully orchestrated rotations of the bottle, right and left, a quarter of a turn, an eighth of a turn or a sixteenth of a turn. The angle of the bottle is altered to point the bottle neck down, allowing the sediment to settle into the bidule [small hollow cap] inserted into the top of each bottle. The riddling process takes approximately 10 to 14 days, and is critical for obtaining a perfectly clear wine.
Once the process is complete and the sparkling wine clear, the lees is removed through disgorging. Bottles are placed onto the disgorging line, neck down, and as the neck of the bottle moves upward, the crown cap is removed. Under pressure, the accumulated sediment is forced out of the top of the bottle. If the bottle is turned upwards too soon, the sediment will mix back into the wine and make the wine cloudy, necessitating that the bottle be placed back into one of the cages and riddled again. If the bottle is not angled correctly, a significant amount of wine will be lost.
Immediately after disgorging, but before the cord is inserted, the liquid level is topped with a mixure of sugar and wine, known as dosage. The winemaker determines this mixture, and each dosage is tailored to the specific vintage. Once the dosage is added, the cork is inserted, followed by the wire cage and, a foil hood. Your méthode champenoise sparkling wine is ready for you to chill, pour, share and enjoy. Stop by the cellar door and sample our Serendipity sparkling wine--crisp, clear and beautiful.
Check out the disgorging link: https://www.facebook.com/NostraVitaWinery/videos/321768625399944/