As we enter September, we’re now into one of the most important months of the year, for wine makers and wine drinkers alike, at least for us in the Northern hemisphere. One of our team is part of the former, but the rest of us…we’re a lot more into the consuming part, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. This time, it’s educational, and this post is all about the harvesting season, which usually lasts from August to September, depending on the stage of ripeness each grape has arrived at as well as the vintage one would be going for.
This month in particular is associated with harvesting of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, whilst later on Chenin Blanc and Viogniers are also whisked away, along with some Merlots and Syrah and Shirazes.
As grapes ripen (a period referred to as veraison), they increase in size and become softer. This is because the vine is pushing sugar into each grape, thus decreasing the acidity content – it’s great that we’ve cultivated this automatic process, the only downside being that veraison doesn’t happen at the same rate for grapes in the same bunch, let alone in the same vineyard, which is why size matters, and not in the way the uninformed would expect…
When planning their yield, wine makers will tend to opt for smaller crop sizes, because less bunches usually means fully ripened grapes of a higher quality. Added to this is that if there are more leaves, it means there’s more to obstruct the sun from reaching the grape, which will promote rotting, just like people who stay inside too much and don’t come to our events. In fact, we’ll take this moment as a side note to remind you that our next event is on the 25th September, when we’ll delve into the world of gin – follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with these special moments.
Back to the world of grape harvesting: one of the key elements is determining the sweetness in the grapes, as that will eventually affect the alcohol level in the wine. Usually checked every week leading up to the harvest, the closer the day draws, the more often the winemaker will check, especially as these months tend to bring rain with them, and heavy rain will ruin the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity. Worth noting is that sweetness is not indicative of ripeness: the latter means that the whole grape including seeds, skin and stem are all in tandem, leading to a sweeter tannin (the wine’s after taste).
After harvesting, it’s time to the grapes to meet their crush, and completely for our benefit (and ultimately theirs, as it’s their purpose to become the delightful beverage we reverently consume) are crushed and destemmed. White wine grapes are taken for pressing rather quickly, so that there’s as little contact as possible between juice, stems, skins and seeds – failure to do so would mean that unwanted colours and tannins are picked up, and the eventual product will not be up to standard. On the other hand, red wine grapes are taken for primary fermentation, which can last for up to one month, before being pressed.
From the local perspective, the first half of the year had us experience cooler temperatures than we usually do, causing grapes to mature later in June rather than the Spring months. There were delays in harvesting for Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, as well as the local grape varieties of Ġellewża and Girgentina. The red grapes will have to be left even later too, as we’re set for a September of lower temperatures and high humidity, further slowing down the maturing process, but having said that, local wineries are hoping to have another good wine year comparable, but not quite exceeding 2018. Same as them, we’re looking forward to getting our hands on a couple of local favourites and hidden gems, and then share them with you.
Now that you know what’s happening in the Maltese world of wine right now (and the rest of Northern Hemisphere, mostly), spare a thought for those beautiful souls currently harvesting the grapes that will eventually make their way into our glasses for us to enjoy. We’ll be back with another informative post rather soon, as we continue our running commentary on the world of wine amongst other things, chiefly our aforementioned Gin & Travel event in the Zurrieq Gardens on the 25th of September.
Information adapted from: