The Ontar Harvest Season is Here!
Host ~ Renée Sferrazza
Sommelier and Wine Professional
Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers Board
Here we look deep into the world of wine and pull out all the useful information that you can bring into your own wine journey. Wine is pleasure, wine is beauty, wine is simple yet complex. There are so many sides to the world of wine. Follow me, Renée Sferrazza, as I break down the world of wine into simple sips.
As a Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier, CAPS Board member, Femmes du Vin Board Chair, wine educator, wine writer, importer and contracted peddler of fortified juice, exploring wine has become more than just a driving force in my life. I’m passionate about bringing a different side of wine to the table. A side that’s romantic, but not pretentious and above all, practical. Essentially, I’ve dedicated my life to grapes - welcome to The Wine Effect.
The grape harvest is on in the northern hemisphere! From Ontario to France, Italy and California, the year's work in the vineyard is finally coming into the cellar. It is no joke that harvest time is the super bowl of the wine industry. Winemakers spend all year preparing for this moment, the time where they literally get to bring in the fruits of their labour.
A lot goes into harvesting wine grapes. They are not your average agricultural crop. Unlike other farmed produce, grapes designated for wine are often not picked on the same day, and harvest is not entirely based on just scientific data. There are many factors at work from when to pick, how to pick and more so this year with socially distanced working. Once the grapes get picked, the process of winemaking is kicked off. Moving directly from the vineyards to the sorting table and then to the crushing pad, grapes move through the process of becoming wine quickly once they enter the cellar. The whole process is back-breaking and rewarding all at the same time, as winemakers spend this time of year setting up the 2020 vintage for success in the bottle.
When to Harvest?
There is more than just grape ripeness for winemakers to consider when they decide to harvest the new vintage. Ripeness does play into when to harvest. In the process of turning grapes into wine, sugars are what is need to create alcohol. Still, those sugars must be balanced out with acidity and good structure from tannins and minerality so that truly notable wine can be made. During the last weeks of a grapes life on the vine in September, the fruit is finishing its maturation process.
Sugars, anthocyanins, and phenolic ripeness are on the rise, but the grape's acidity is decreasing at the same time. As the grapes are maturing during these last moments on the vine, winemakers will begin to walk the vineyard, taking grapes in to sample their percentage of sugars, referred to as Brix, as well as tasting the grapes. They note the grape colour, the colour of stems and seeds, and the fruit's overall flavour from off the vine. Having an understanding of their vineyard, winemakers will wait until the perfect moment to harvest.
When the grapes are finally ready to be picked, the last choice the winemaker will have to make is what time of day to harvest. To save the complex aromas in the grapes, winemakers will often choose to harvest at the coldest points in the day, either in the early morning or at night. Having the grapes coming in the winery cool keeps those prised aromas, better stabilizes sugars, minimizes microbial activity and less oxidation of the fruit. Taking all these factors into account equals better control during fermentation.
The Grapes Are In the Building, Now What?
There no breaks once grapes are harvested from the vineyard, straight to the sorting table they go. The newly harvested grapes are shaken and sorted to remove leaves and unwanted bugs that might have made their way into the winery on grapes. They are then destemmed and crushed or placed in a vat for some whole cluster fermentation — either way, to slice it at this point, the winemaking process is underway.
Some critical decisions happen at this stage as well; winemakers can choose to turn their grapes into wine vineyard block by vineyard block or not. Wineries that do block specific vilification are, in essence, creating many wines from once harvest. These wines may be blended into the final product or kept separate. The benefits of this winemaking style mean that a winemaker can choose to show off a particular portion of the vineyard for single-vineyard wines or create a blend across the property with more nuance in the final wine.
What Does the 2020 Vintage Have in Store?
It is evident that 2020 has been a challenging year for many industries, but grapes don't care about our human problems. They have minded their own business in the vineyard this whole time. While there have been some complications for vineyards worldwide this vintage, most notably the fires in California and North Western states, the 2020 vintage looks promising.
In Ontario, the growing season went really well. The summer's heat with little rains is an ideal situation for grapes, as they hate to get their feet wet. In California, the fire season made working the vineyards. Knowing when to harvest became very challenging, and smoke taint will continue to be a worry as the harvest in the region continues. Still, there is a hopefulness that the vintage will be a saving grace to the challenging year.
In France, there was a record early grape harvest, starting in mid-August for many wineries. There was also an increase in the volume of grapes this vintage in many regions, which will cause winemakers to be very selective as the winemaking process continues for 2020. In Italy, the harvests are looking promising. Like France, they are experiencing an early and bountiful harvest, so although the harvest is looking good, there may be a challenge in the winery.
Whatever the 2020 vintage brings to the glass, it is exciting to see what this year will taste like in the bottle. Cheers till next time, drink good wine!