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When is a Vineyard Ready for Harvest?

by Scott Shirley

The decision to harvest a vineyard begins way before the actual pick date. Our vineyard interns have been collecting berry samples and bringing them to the lab for sugar testing since July in anticipation of harvest. Every afternoon, I review the results - Brix, Titratable Acity, and pH. Based on the analyses, the Vineyard Director Paul and I visit those vineyard blocks which seem to be approaching a possible pick date.

Before any pick is made, Paul and I will have walked the rows and tasted the fruit on the vine multiple times carefully monitoring its progression through ripening. The numbers from the lab are only indicators, because they cannot describe the flavors developing or the status of the vine. It is necessary to evaluate multiple factors while canvassing the vineyard block.

1. Is the vine struggling, stressed by heat, disease, or nutrient deficiency?

2. What is the weather forecast for the next week - will the grapes benefit from another three days of hangtime?

3. Will the grape skins soften, the tannins resolve, and the sugar/acid balance reach perfection, or will a heat event cause sunburn and raising?

4. Is the canopy in good shape to protect the crop, while allowing enough dappled sunlight to foster physiological ripeness?

All of these questions can keep a winemaker awake at night, but there is also a buzz of excitement which charges the air as full veraison arrives. Our 2015 harvest has just begun and adrenaline jump starts each morning. Our cellar interns are washing our half-ton picking bins and sanitizing tanks, hoses, clamps, and gaskets to prepare for the full on-set of harvest. The weigh scale is certified and the harvest supplies are in. We are poised and ready to embrace Vintage 2015. Bring it on!!