Now that we are at the end of August nearly all our Syrah, Pinot, Chardonnay, and Grenache vineyards have either progressed through or are currently in a process called veraison. Veraison, a widely adopted French viticulture term, does not have a direct translation but defines the inception of ripening and more or less means color change.
While veraison signifies the beginning of ripening, it would be misleading to think that only after this physiological time point can one “ripen” the fruit. There are several important processes that occur well before veraison that we know impact the way a wine finally tastes, and as such they certainly impact the final “ripening.” However, it is at veraison that the berry undergoes significant changes that are principally associated with tasty fruit: acid decline, sugar accumulation, and color change. (Parenthetically, this is nearly identical to what happens to tomatoes, which botanically are also berries). Flavor development is also important, but some flavors are indeed developed prior to veraison; and others dissipate after veraison and it is their absence that signals “ripe” fruit. ”Flavor ripeness” in some respects is how these elements taste relative to the primary changes mentioned above.
Veraison really is a remarkable transformation in the grape. The obvious changes of color, sugar, and acid only tell part of the story. For example, the acid declines because the berry begins to “eat” the acid for energy in lieu of sugar, which it now stores. Water resources begin to come into the berry by a different conduit and only in concert with sugar. Seeds begin to brown, tannin levels change. I could go on.
The most important part of veraison though may be its psychological impact on the valley. There seems to be a palatable shift in gears from the entire industry. It’s as if we have stepped into the on deck circle in a close game, and it is nearly our time to bat. Time to hit it out of the park.