Understanding the Science Behind Grape Ripeness and its Impact on Flavor


Basics of Ripeness

While there are different determining factors, there are a few basic indications that the grape is ready. The grapes should be softer to the touch, and easy to pull off the vine. If it is hard, it is still too young, and if it is shriveled, it is too old. When the grape color changes, it is called veraison. Veraison is a good indicator that it is starting to ripen and will soon be ready to pick. Our grapes are currently moving through veraison, and will be ready to pick within the next month or two.

Factors in Flavor

As the grape is growing, it will take on different flavors. The longer it sits on the vine, the bolder the flavor will be. A young red fruit will taste more vegetal and and have flavors green apple and citrus. When it ages, it will become more jammy and red-fruited, which means it is sweeter and will have a higher alcohol content. We strive to create a balanced wine, so we try to pick our grapes before they become too ripe.

Grape Picking in Mahoney Vineyard

Differences in Varietal Harvesting

Not all grapes are picked at the same time. While the harvest season normally falls between August and November, some grapes are picked earlier than others. Sparkling wines are picked earlier, due to them needing to be less sweet and containing less sugars. Pinot Noir is a very small thin-skinned grape, and it normally ripens earlier than other varietals. Harvesting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Napa Valley begins later than most other varieties, in some years around November.
We are still out in the field sampling the grapes to determine sugars and figuring out when certain blocks are ready to be picked. This year, we plan on harvesting through October, much later than last year, which was mid-September!
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