As summer draws to a close the harvest season at area vineyards begins and it is an exciting time. Winemaker Stephen McHone at RagApple Lassie Vineyard in Boonville said the start of harvest season also can be a little nerve wracking.
As the time for harvest draws near, winemakers begin pulling grape samples to determine if those particular grapes are ready to be picked. The pH level, amount of sugar and acidity are things they are looking for to determine if the time is right for harvesting.
The line from Dean Martin’s famed song “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” should actually say he is praying for a dry season rather than rain so that the grapes can grow and they can make more wine. Obviously the vineyards do need some rain in order to grow, but too much rain especially near harvest time can cause problems, McHone explained.
As the rain soaks into the ground and up the roots of the vines into the grapes it causes the grapes to swell and fill with water. Water-filled grapes don’t necessarily make very good wine. McHone explained a drier season causes the flavors to be more concentrated and makes for a better tasting wine.
Winemakers do what they call a hundred berry sample, which is exactly what is sounds like. They randomly pick 100 grapes from a given varietal, take them into the lab where they crush it to extract the juice and using special equipment they test the sample for its sugar level, measured in bricks, as well as the pH level and acidity. By physically examining the grapes on the vine, they also can begin to tell harvest time is near.
The harvest season in North Carolina typically begins near the middle or end of August and will last until mid-October. The white grapes are harvested first and the red varietals later in the season.
McHone and Shelton Vineyard’s winemaker Gill Giese said some of the whites were coming in a little earlier than usual, but the grapes so far were looking great.
“This season has been good to us,” Giese said. He said oftentimes the warm summer evenings would cause the acid levels in the grapes to drop, but that was not the case this year.
By examining the grapes and testing the levels in the labs, both winemakers predicted a good year for their wines.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.