Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Early Grape Harvest?

I've mentioned in more than one post the rigorous growth our grapevines have had this year.  The rigorous growth which has given me buns of steel from all the vine training.  The rigorous growth which gave me a nervous breakdown in the middle of the vineyard.  Remember?  This being our first year harvesting, we were hoping for a normal year to base future harvest timeframes.  But between all the rain and the heat and humidity this summer, the grapes are ripening earlier than we expected.  Usually, many growers in the area don't harvest until early to mid-September, but we seem to be ripening faster this year.  It is Minnesota afterall, and no season is ever predictable or normal.  So I guess that is the norm. 

People always ask, "how do you know when to pick the grapes?"

First the grapes go through a process called véraison, which is when the grapes start to change color and ripen.  Instead of being an opaque green berry, they start to ripen to their natural color.  The berries are filling out with juices and sugar.  The seeds also start to turn brown.  And by tasting a grape, you can tell they are getting more sweet and less acidic as the season goes on. 

Little grapes early june

Grapes end of June

Frontenac Gris beginning of August

Marquette beginning of August

At the point of veraison, we know we need to start monitoring the sugar and acid levels. Scientifically speaking, their Brix and pH levels.  The pH measures the acidity level and Brix is a unit measurement of sugar.  Isn't Brix a great word? 


Brix Schram.  Maybe for a boy?  Strong name.  Honey, what do you think? 

Sorry.  I tend to get on baby name tangents these days.  It's a little problem of mine...

Anyway, we have a device that helps us with these measurements.  We pick a grape and smush it into the little device and can read the level on there. 

For those of you that might care, we try to pick them when the pH level for the white grapes is between 3.0-3.2 and the reds are 3.2-3.4. And the Brix when the whites are in the low twenties (21-23) and the reds in the mid twenties (25-26)...roughly, but can vary by grape.   When the sugar level rises to the right level and acid level drops to the right level, we have optimal harvesting conditions. 

We anticipate, based on their progress so far, that we will start harvesting later this month.  We were expecting harvest to be September.  But I guess we'll have to learn not to have any timeline expectations in future years.  And after a long summer of hard work, I will not complain about an early harvest.  I'm ready!