We have pulled out of June gloom and now with the temperatures rising, the fruit on the vines will begin to ripen quicker. But is that good – or is it bad?
It is a complicated question and with any wine-related question – the answer tends to be “it depends”.
Suppose a grape varietal took 120 days to fully mature. In a hot year, the fruit might ripen in 100 days and in a cool year maybe 130 days. All things being considered, most winemakers would prefer a longer growing season versus a short one. The extra time allows the fruit to ripen not only in sugar but in maturity.
Think of the 6-foot-tall 7th grader on the basketball team, even though they are tall, does not suggest that they are mature. If you ask any middle school teacher, they would all agree that maturity has little to do with height – just as sugars alone do not constitute ripeness.
What we want is the fruit to be physiologically mature also – this allows other flavor components to ripen and hold more promise for the future wine. This adds complexity and interest to the wine.
What I find so frustrating is picking out fruits at the local store, everything looks ripe, but it has no taste. Most of the fruit I find never seems to have reached maturity, or ripeness.
When a grape varietal is planted in an area that is too hot (ripens too fast) the wine will often taste weak, with no structure and elevated alcohol content. Grown in too cool of a climate, the wine will taste unripe, tart and typically have lower alcohol content.
Now back to the “it depends” part, if the climate is very hot during the day, BUT has very cold nights, the grapes will sleep and the acids will be preserved. The difference between the daytime high and the night low is called the “diurnal”. The bigger the diurnal, the more the grapes love it. We source our fruit from places like Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley have a huge diurnal – excellent fruit yield excellent wine.
When the grapes don’t cool down enough (warm nights), they stay awake, get the munchies and end up eating all of their acids leaving the wine flat and flabby.
What throws all of this out the door is when we get long periods of clouds or excessive heat, in both cases, the vines will shut down and the fruit won’t ripen properly leading to inferior wine.
The takeaway is: plant the right thing in the right place and hope Mother Nature doesn’t play too many games with you. And if you don’t have a vineyard – buy fruit from the best locations.