Veraison, the colorful benchmark in the wine grape-growing season as grapes turn from green to translucent gold and purple, is underway in Napa Valley.
David McGraw from Silverado Farming Company confirmed that they had begun noticing the new color in grapes “earlier this week” in upvalley vineyards.
“We’re seeing veraison in our Merlot and Zinfandel vineyards, as well as our Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon,” said Macy Stubstad, director of vineyard operations at Lawrence Wine Estates in St. Helena. “The crop looks great. We’re seeing average yields and healthy, balanced canopies.”
With the onset of veraison, the official countdown to harvest begins. Now farmers and winemakers will begin monitoring the vines closely as the grapes gain in weight, volume and sugar content.
Each grape variety ripens at a different rate. Harvest begins with the sparkling wine grapes, which need higher levels of acidity. Grapes for still white wine follow and then the red wine grapes.
“Things are moving along nicely in the vineyards,” said Hugh Davis, president of Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga. “We are just starting to see some color development in some of the Napa-Carneros/Bayview Pinot Noir vineyards we work with, which has us calculating our sparkling wine harvest to begin in early August.
“Looking at the canopies and clusters in the vineyards, which seem to look stronger than last year’s, we are optimistic that the overall yields will come in as planned for the 2022 harvest season.”
“We’re beginning to see veraison in our sparkling wine varieties, which is exciting,” said Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, business manager for Yount Mill Vineyards and Napa Wine Company. “We’re forecasting mid-August to begin harvest.”
According to Napa Valley Grapegrowers, at this point in the growing season, growers are actively maintaining grape and vine health by leafing to create sunlight and air flow through the canopies, maximizing quality, minimizing disease pressure and preventing sunburn. The vineyard floor is cultivated to minimize weeds, vineyard pests and to hold on to the remaining moisture that exists in the soil.
The ongoing drought has not severely impacted the growing season, said Matthew Levy from Schramsberg. “We had the early heavy rains to fill the reservoirs which helped.” Growers were able to plan and use water sparingly to get through this dry season, he added.
“People notice veraison because it’s a visual thing, but it’s one moment in the spectrum of the grape,” said Patrick Saboe, director of winemaking for The Foundry based in Napa “Hourly, you don’t know what is going on inside the grape.”
Veraison, he added, is the signal to the vine to let go of producing vegetation and focus on the seed. “The goal of the vine is reproduction,” he said. “The vine wants to keep the grape unattractive until its ready for animals to eat and spread the seeds. The whole thing of the vine is seed development and dispersal.”
Veraison, he added, is “for the animals” — including human animals.
From here, they’ll be checking vines every few days, said Stuart Ake from the Wine Foundry, which sources grapes from throughout California. Despite the ongoing drought and “a few heat spikes,” this year’s growing season seems to be on pace for a harvest starting on a typical time table in August, “neither early, nor late.”
That could all change swiftly, as farmers are quick to acknowledge. As veteran winegrower Jim Verhey once said, “Every year is the same: different.”
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