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What makes grapes ripen for harvest?

This is an exciting and nerve-racking time on the farm, the grapes are in their final stretch of ripening and everyone on the farm is looking forward to the harvest. This is a careful game of patience and waiting for the perfect moment to pick. However, this game is not about guessing,  there is lots of knowledge and techniques that help inform this important decision.

Many variables impact how grapes will ripen, the most important is the cultivar specific character and impact of terroir. Recall that terroir is the culmination of factors like local weather, location, soils, aspect, and vineyard practices to name a few.

Each cultivar has its characteristics that point to when in the season it is most likely to ripen which is generally described as early, mid or late in the season. This has to do with the vigour of the vine for growth, leaves (size, shape and number), berries (shape and size, as well as skin thickness).

Considering terroir takes into account how the amount and quality of sunshine hours the vines receive. It is sunlight and temperature that are most significant in triggering the ripening process of the vines. In preparation for ripening careful management of the vine leaves is used to help each bunch catch the valuable sunlight.

At the Ken Forrester farm, many cultivars are grown and there are many vineyards with individual terroir, so having the collection of cultivar knowledge and understanding of terroir helps manage focus and good harvest preparation.

Ken Forrester is widely known for Chenin Blanc which is generally regarded as a mid-season harvesting cultivar, meaning from the second half of February. The FMC is primarily from low yielding old bush vines planted in 1974, meaning the vines are not grown on a trellis. These vines are carefully managed to ensure exposure to the sun and harvested by hand on multiple passes to ensure only ripe berries are picked. The Chenin used for Sparklehorse requires different considerations for the cooler vineyard as the goal is to reach ripeness while retaining the vital acidity for this bubbly. The T-Noble Late Harvest is yet another story where the grapes are left on the vine and allowed to be infected with botrytis which gently dehydrates the berries, concentrating the intense character. This takes time and these berries are harvested late in the season, sometimes as late as May.

The estate is also known for its red Rhône blends such as the Gypsy and Renegade. These wines centre around a blend of either Syrah, Grenache or Mourvèdre. These are generally mid-season starting at the end of February with Syrah ripening first, followed by Grenache and then Mourvèdre finishing off by the end of March.

During this action-packed time, consider a visit to Ken Forrester and experience the buzz of potential in the air while tasting the wide range of wines on offer.