Let the Wine Decide: On your marks for Harvest 2012

August 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Exciting times in the vineyard! ‘Véraison’ or grape ripening has now started which allows us to judge when the grapes are likely to be ready to harvest. The predicted date of harvest is especially important because we harvest by hand and must make sure enough teams trained pickers are at the ready.  This week we follow activity in our Cairanne La Ruche vineyard as the ‘véraison’ of Syrah is starting to take place.

Grape ripening or Veraison, Boutinot Rhone, Cairanne

Véraison (ripening) begins on Syrah vines at La Ruche

Véraison is a complex process “and is characterized by rapid growth and accumulation of sugar in the berry together with the first flush of colour in the berries” (see The Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd Edition for a detailed explanation).

Before véraison berries are green, quite hard and unappetiszing. During ripening the grapes soften, begin to change colour and just under a week later start to grow.

Syrah grapes before ripening at Boutinot Rhone La Ruche, Cairanne

Before véraison berries are small, green and hard

By carefully assessing the level of ripeness of individual berries and the extent of ripening across full bunches within a vineyard, it is possible to make an initial prediction of the harvest date. Véraison gives us a good indication about the date of the crop which is usually between 40 to 50 days after the mid-veraison, so we might start the harvest around the 10th-15th of September at La Ruche.

Bunch of Syrah grapes starting to ripen, Boutinot Rhone

Different stages of véraison across a bunch of Syrah berries

Rather trickily for us not all grapes on a vine or even on a bunch ripen at the same time. Those closer to the canopy top and with more exposure to the sun will be the first to ripen.

This, in part, explains why regular trimming, or cutting off over vigorous shoots during the summer months, is an essential and on-going part of managing our vineyards, to allow as many  berries as possible on a bunch ripen evenly and also to reduce the risk of disease.

Vines trimmed by tractor so grapes ripen evenly

Trimming the vines to ensure optimum ripening

Vines are carefully checked  over to ensure they are healthy and that berries have the optimum chance of ripening as the weeks leading up to mid-September go by.

Since mid-June the weather  has proved ideal with hot days and at times a gentle cooling, northerly Mistral wind. Due to the wet conditions earlier in the year, vines are well nourished and able to benefit from the dry weather. Harvest levels in our Cairanne vineyards are still on course to be at normal levels in 2012.

Then it’s a case of waiting for harvest…..sometimes taking time out at our favourite spot just outside the cellar, under the shade of an ancient almond tree, for a glass of ‘La Fleur Solitaire’ Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2011….

Almond tree, Boutinot Rhone domaine, Cairanne

Ancient almond tree at Boutinot Rhône cellars in Cairanne