April 9, 2013

The harvesting of wine grapes can happen anytime between the end of August to November in the Northern Hemisphere and between February and April in the Southern Hemisphere. I apologise if it seems as though I am pointing out the obvious but I also want to make sure you realise that, for example, a Sauvignon Blanc from the French 2011 vintage will be less than 6 months older than a 2012 from New Zealand, it is worth remembering this subtle difference.

The first hint that the harvest is on its way is the “Veraison” or the changing of the colour of the grapes from a universal bright green to either a more mature looking greenish-yellow for the white varieties and anything from pink to dark purple for the reds. This time of year is a time for celebration; many areas in France have an actual day to commemorate it. I have attended several “Fete de La Veraison” in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (name dropping again, I know). It is probably merely for the benefit of the tourists nowadays but the village turns into something reminiscent of the middle ages. There are jousting events, a market of course, and the stone fountains pour with red wine rather than water. You pay for a tasting glass and you can refill from the fountains or large casks of wine at will. Much merriment ensues as you can imagine. Believe it or not I didn’t actually taste to confirm but I suspect the wine in question is not the best Cru of the region but quite rightly no one seems to care.

So after the change of colour a little more waiting is needed until the winemaker decides the grapes have reached full maturity. This is a very stressful time. He (or she) may decide to make a green harvest where the excess grapes are actually cut away and not used to make sure that the vines can concentrate on this very important last stage and in fact aid the ripening of the remaining bunches. Each particular grape variety ripens at a different time. This can be useful if a vineyard hosts several different varieties as they can harvest in batches according to ripeness. The desired style of wine being produced is also an important factor. Late harvest wines will of course be the last to pick but that date is crucial and can often be the make or break of the wine.

I am frequently asked if I would like to grow vines and produce my own wines, absolutely not is the answer. Far easier to taste, write, teach and advise, and I suspect a tad less stressful.

The word harvest is often interchanged with “vintage” and refers of course to that year’s crop or growth. Incidentally the vintage in the Northern Hemisphere in 2012 is generally recognised as being pretty dreadful. Burgundy and Champagne predicted declines of 30-40% in production. In France overall a drop of 20% is expected and in Italy 10%, both countries said it was the worst harvest for 40-50 years; climate change??.  This, my dear readers, means only one thing. We can expect prices for the 2012 vintage in these parts of Europe to increase considerably. There is evidence, apparently, that the wine that did get produced was concentrated and of a higher quality, but they would say that wouldn’t they? The only way to know is by objective tastings. I will let you know how I get on!!


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