from grapes to wine
Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, follow the grapes on their journey, from the vine to your glass. There is work to be done in each of the seasons. Here the people behind the share their stories of getting the grapes, from dirt to glass.
Just as wine is forever changing, the wine industry and people who are apart of it are constantly changing providing us an ever expanding education. This page will continue to develop, with experiences and information we gather, learning about each season, the different climates, practices, and innovations that develop, to make each years wine better than before.
Vines are dormant
The wine is in barrels ageing
Now is the time for pruning
the vines start to wake up and reach for the sun
And the constant worry of frost during budbreak
and too much wind during flowering which causes shatter
grape set when the grape berries form
then there is
veraison when the berries change color
as the berries ripen Harvest begins
It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages.
Winter in the Vineyard
It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages. The leaves in the vineyard turn red or golden and then fall, the vines are going dormant. They will get pruned mid winter, cutting back the vines to ensure a healthy crop for next year.
Fertilizing the vineyard
Now is the time to compost the vineyard. Many vineyards save the unripe fruit and/or pomice (the skins from the grapes after the wine is pressed off) to use in their compost. Sometimes additional fertilizers will be added. (We like when they used the natural kind). Then the soil is disked to get the nutrients mixed in with the topsoil. This way when the rain comes the soil can soak up all these nutrients.
Winter is a great time to visit wineries, as you may find smaller winery’s have their winemaker pouring. if you are a wine geek, it sometimes is a little slower, so you can talk more with the staff and get more in-depth information. Also is a great time to schedule some wine tours, or wine education events that many winery’s offer.
Cover crops will also be seeded, and coming up, likely making the vineyards look green in early winter. Cover crops help with keeping down erosion, adding nutrients back into the soil and help lure in those beneficial insects. Vineyards with sheep and other animals may have them out grazing in the vines. This helps keep the soil loose and adds natural fertilizer.
As winter ends we will head toward spring and as the sap starts to flow and we get closer to bud break the sleepless nights when freeze warnings happen. But that’s for Spring (and you thought spring was all bright greens and flowers?)
Perfect spring conditions have the weather warming gradually. The barren vines become dotted with bright green buds. Bud break is when the tiny buds of green burst forward with those vividly bright green leaves. The vines coming back to life after being dormant all winter is a time for celebration right?
Sadly, with spring comes spring frosts, and those are a nightmare for those who work in the vineyards.
Higher elevations are always more at risk of frost damage. Frost hits where the cold air settles
If you have ever driven by a citrus grove in winter, you might see the big barrels for fire (smudge pots) and fans to spread around the warm air. This can be used in vineyards also.
Large fans or wind machines are used in vineyards to move the air around. This directs the warmer air from above down toward the vines and displaces the colder air on the ground away from the vines. You need one of these machines for every 10 to 12 acres of vineyard.
Heaters or smudge pots can be used to heat the air in the vineyards. These heaters typically burn about a gallon of diesel oil per hour and give off a thick warm smoke that the vineyard fans then circulate to keep the vines from freezing. Mind you, this is not just about the heat from the smudge pots, it is also about the smoke, particulates, carbon dioxide and water vapor. This “smog” is a layer blocking out infrared light which prevents radiant cooling. This method requires about 25 smudge pots per acre, which are typically at the edges of the vineyard.
Most vineyards now also have an overhead sprinkler system. When it gets to freezing a fine mist is turned on, it coats the buds and keeps them from freezing. Here’s the magic of this, as the water changes to ice, it releases a small amount of heat and that is what protects the vines. Of course this depends on the water continuing to flow and continuing to freeze and give off this latent heat. Of course this leaves you at the mercy of the amount of water in a vineyard. During times of drought this kind of frost protection becomes difficult.
This is the opening of the buds left behind by pruning. These fuzzy beady little things have all the stuff to grow leaves, shoots, tendrils and berries.
About a month after bud bread the flowers come out. These are tight bunches of tiny flowers, and each flower has the potential to become a grape.
Standby for more scary stuff. Wind and frost can wipe out the flowers and that would mean that those bunches of grapes would never form. There is the possibility of a re-sprout, but at this point in the vines season the yield will be considerably smaller.
This is when the flowers start to take the shape of grapes in the cluster. As the are pollinated the flowers drop their petals and tiny green sphere emerge.
Summer in the vineyard is the start of the busy season. The vines are growing and there is lots of farming work to do. As the vines start to climb they need to be trained and often cut back to allow for the proper number of clusters to develop the best potential of flavor in the grapes and here positioning is important also, for easy of picking, reducing rot and even ripening.
Trellising – or not
Around the world there are many different versions of trellising grapes. Grapes are after all a vine and they will crawl where they can, so providing them with a trellis allows them a place to climb and stay off the ground. Edna Valley Vineyard in SLO (San Luis Obispo) wine country has a detailed demonstration garden out front displaying some of the various trellising methods that they use on their property.
Happy vines will shoot toward the sky. Happy vines like where they are, they are growing and have everything they need. Sadly, happy vines do not make tasty grapes. Vines push out fruit for one reason, to propagate. Tasty bright red sweet fruit that birds and other animals can see and smell are the vines ride out of town. The animals eat the grapes and head out elsewhere to poop out the seeds and a new vine can grow. Only vines looking to get away will make extra tasty grapes. So, if the vines get too happy they get trimmed back so that they will put their energy into fruit. This means trimming the canopy and shoot thinning so there are only a few shoots per vine producing bunches of grapes.
As the vines start to grow they will get vigorous and bushy. Shoots are thinned if they don’t have fruit, they are coming out of the cordon the wrong direction (out the side rather than up) or if they are too close to a better shoot.
Shoot Positioning (tucking)
As the shoots are thinned, the ones that are kept are trained typically upward (VSP or Vertical Shoot Positioning) there are guide wires above that the shoots can be trained between to keep them spread out. This helps keep down mold, mildew or fungus, as the vines get better access to sun and airflow.
This is the change of color in the grapes, the skins thin as the juice sweetens and the grapes plump. In red grapes the pigment develops, in white grapes the skin becomes more transluscent. This is the magical time when the vine is concentrating all it’s energy on making delicious sweet fruit. The chlorophyll that made up those bright green hard little berries is replaced by nutrients and sugars and the grapes start to develop their aromas (to woo in those birds). The acid falls as the sugars rise now we are getting closer to harvest. Veraison means you have 30 to 70 days until harvest, depending on the weather and variety.
As the grapes ripen, most eyes are on the vineyard. Watching the color of the grapes and checking the sugar levels. They call the sugar level in the grapes Brix. Brix translate into the final alcohol level in the wine. This is because during fermentation those yeasties are going to break down the sugars and turn that into alcohol, so the science says that if you pick a grape at 26 Brix you will get a wine in the end that is around 14.5. The sugars in the grape are affected by the climate. Warmer climates cause the grapes to get riper, the sugars higher and the resulting wines will be higher in alcohol and vice versa. So the winemaker is looking at all these factors when deciding when to pick the grapes. Of course, in addition to the sugars the rest of the grape has to be ripe. Also the different varieties of grapes ripen differently as do sections of the vineyard depending on where they are on a hill.
While their eyes are on the vineyards, plenty of other folks are getting all the things ready in the cellar. Barrels and fermentation tanks are getting cleaned and ready, the bins and other equipment are getting set up and ready.
Harvest arrives and things start early. It is best to pick fruit early in the morning before the morning sun warms up the fruit and the sugars start to change. The fruit is also firmer then in the cold morning and stays fresher as you get it to the crush pad.
So the vineyard has a bunch of people dressed in layers, buckets and clippers in hand, who then leap frog down the rows clipping bunches to fill their bucket then getting them into the larger bins on the tractor, where other people stand over pulling out the MOG (material other than grapes).
The bins go back to the winery to the sorting table where any extra leaves and stems are pulled out, as well as unripe or over ripe fruit. Here is where the decision is made for stem inclusion or not. There is a machine called a destemmer/crusher that separates the grapes from the stems and then crushes them. From there…well, then you get into all the great cellar stuff like pressing, fermentation, pump downs, and getting it into barrels. This is the busy season. But out in the field, there is still something happening
The grapes may have been harvested, but the vines are still working! After harvest the vine, which is now finished with all that fruit making work, sends out lots of tiny root hairs (think of the little hairs on a carrot). These hairs pull back in nutrients from the soil. With those nutrients and the leaves still photosynthesizing and no more fruit to feed, the vines are like a bear storing up energy for a long winter nap. And beyond saving up energy, this creates a concentration of sugar and starch in the plant which helps them keep from freezing.
Bit by bit the grapes disappear into the winery and then the empty vines start to change color. Vines make their food supply by photosynthesis. In the fall the nitrogen and phosphorus are slowly pulled from the leaves back into the twigs and branches to be stored for the winter. As the plant stops making chlorophyll as the days get shorter and there is less sunlight the green fades and the other colors are revealed. The yellow and orange tones are the carotenoid pigments in the leaf that get overrun by the green chlorophyll most of the year. The brown tones in the leaves are caused by tannins, which are actually a product of plant metabolism that is deposited in the cell walls and accumulate in dead tissue. (okay, I’m pretty giddy with all this geeky stuff, I hope you are too).