Let’s talk about the seasonal change I get the most excited to see! During veraison I find myself driving through the vineyard more than I do the rest of the year as a whole. As you may have guessed, versaison is a French term (ver – ray – zohn) that has been adopted into the English language. Quite literally versaison is the stage of grape maturation where the grapes change color. It does also happen in white grapes, it’s just less apparent, they become a little more golden and transparent!
Veraison typically happens in late July, but as you would imagine is heavily effected by weather. Here in the San Pasqual Valley we got a triple digit heat wave in early July which sent us into veraison! Before this stage, the grapes are small, high in acid and well, green. As I am sure you remember from grade school, plants, including vines, use chlorophyll to create energy. At this point in maturation, there is a shift from energy creation (through photosynthesis) to using and channeling that energy. In white grapes, they chlorophyll is replaced by carotenoids, but in red grapes chlorophyll is replaced by anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are the red, blue and purple pigments that can be seen in berries. These two compounds are met by sugars (glucose and fructose) to start developing aromas. Polyphenols will also present themselves to help protect the grapes from the elements.
As grapes ripen, the sugar levels rise and the acid level begins to fall. As harvest approaches, winemakers and vineyard managers will go through the vineyard almost daily to test Brix (sugar level). There is a number that every winemaker looks for to initiate harvest, there will be a point where the sugar and acid are perfectly in balance to create their ideal wine. This can happen anywhere between 1-2.5 months after veraison!
Nature is beautifully unpredictable, so versaison always marks the beginning of the excitement.