Veraison Is Upon Us

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Veraison has begun, and our Marquette grapes are leading the charge.

How funny it is that within my last post I spoke of berries ripening, as this week finally brought what I longed to see: grape berries in veraison! Veraison is an extremely important time in a grape’s gradual path to maturation, for at this time the berry begins to accumulate sugar compounds and, most noticeably, begins to change color. This change of hue is due to the accumulation and increased concentration of pigment compounds, the most well-known probably being anthocyanins. From veraison onwards the berries will continue to enlargen and swell with sugars, organic acids, and polyphenols until the berries are ripe and at that point  harvest-time is here! Unfortunately, I will not be out here to experience my first grape harvest; nevertheless, I am rather pleased to be here to see the clusters go into veraison. Pictured above is a cluster from our Marquette vines, a dear favorite hybrid of mine due to their impressive vigor and beautiful berries. These vines are known for blooming early in the season, and in our vineyard they both bloomed first and set fruit first as well–so, naturally veraison is expected to occur in them first. The onset of veraison is not equal, as the cluster gradually ripens and changes color berry by berry, and in this specific cluster some berries are still green while others, particularly the small one in the center, are already a dark blue-blackish hue.

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A Pinot Noir cluster, with a couple of small berries that have already changed color.

Aside from Marquette, some Vinifera cultivars that are amongst the earliest varieties to go into veraison include Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, and Zweigelt–the latter two are a German and an Austrian variety. These are some of the earliest-ripening varieties that we have in our research vineyard, which means only one thing: bird-netting! As the berries ripen and begin to accumulate more sugars, they naturally begin to attract more birds to the vineyard as at that point they begin to become palatable. Here on Long Island, many vineyard managers run into issues with persistent bird damage, as the birds will fly around the fruiting zone–where the clusters are on the vine–and peck the grapes. So, once veraison gets here, that means it’s time to put up the infamous bird-netting.

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The bird-netting rolled out alongside the row of vines–far away down the row you can see my colleagues leaf thinning around the clusters.

Being new to viticulture, I had no prior experience of setting up bird-netting, yet I often heard of how grueling and monotonous it can be. That didn’t put a dampener on my enthusiasm though, as I was looking forward to having my first experience with the notorious netting. The actual netting is composed of a finely woven synthetic mesh, and we essentially wrap it around the fruiting zone of every single vine, tying it at the top and bottom to prevent birds, mice, raccoons, and many other critters from breaking in and eating the ripening grapes. Some animals still happen to get within the netting though, which then generally requires some kind of rescue attempt on the viticulturist’s end to save the trapped animal. I’ve heard a fair share of such heroic and valiant rescue stories already!

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The finished result–accomplished with pride and satisfaction.

After tying up two rows worth of netting, I can already admit that it can be quite monotonous at times, yet it’s quite worth the time and effort if it saves the crop from being eaten. Plus, Matt–my colleague–and I listen to bluegrass and old-school blues while we work, generally chatting as we work down the row. We spent all day yesterday working on bird-netting, and already at the end of the day my lower back was a tad sore from stooping over when I was tying up the netting. I can’t complain though, as nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies finishing a day of hard work! The feeling of satisfaction is entirely worth it. Putting up more bird-netting is on the agenda for the day today, although a torrential rainstorm this morning kept us away from the vineyard temporarily. It seems that storm has since passed, which means it’s back into the field for us. That being said, until next time.

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