Photo essay: head-trained, dry-farmed Grenache on Scruffy Hill
Counting sheep (and losing sleep)

Veraison 2013: one week ahead of normal as we turn for the home stretch

Veraison -- the point at which grapes start to turn color and accumulate sugar -- is a visible, easily measurable signpost in the growing season.  There are several of these signposts, including budbreak, flowering, veraison, first harvest and last harvest.  Taken together, they allow us to assess the progress of our vineyard compared to other vintages.  The beginning of veraison also begins a roughly six week countdown to the beginning of harvest, and so is closely watched as the best estimate yet of when the big events will begin.

Viticulturist Levi Glenn found the first evidence of veraison in Syrah on July 17th, and by yesterday it was possible to find veraison in every red variety, though by no means in every cluster.  In my ramble around the vineyard, I'd estimate that we're around 50% complete with veraison in Syrah, 30% complete in Mourvedre, 10% complete in Grenache and 1% complete in Counoise.  This doesn't mean that we'll start our harvest with Syrah and finish with Counoise.  Different grapes take different amounts of time between veraison and harvest, with Syrah and Grenache taking less time -- about 6 weeks -- and Mourvedre notorious for taking more: as much as 10 weeks.

I took some photos that were representative of the clusters that showed veraison (so, I didn't photograph any of the many all-green Counoise or Grenache clusters, however representative they would be).  I'll show them in the order in which we expect to start harvesting them, beginning with Syrah, already showing the characteristic conical clusters and beginning to show the blue-black color that it gives the wines it produces.  We'll expect to start harvesting Syrah at the beginning of September and continue well into the second half of the month:

Veraison 2013 Syrah

Next we'll look at Grenache, never particularly dark in color, and at this early stage still more rose than red. The Grenache vines are looking particularly good this year, and we expect to begin harvesting them in mid-September and continue through early October:

Veraison 2013 Grenache

Next up is Counoise.  I had to climb up to the very top of the Counoise block to find clusters that showed color, and even there it's rare.  Counoise, like Grenache, is relatively light in color even at harvest, and we don't expect to see it come into the cellar until October:

Veraison 2013 Counoise

We'll expect Mourvedre to come into the cellar last, likely beginning the second week of October and continuing through the month, despite its fairly advanced progress through veraison.  You'll note a significant number of bright green berries even in the mostly-veraised cluster below (the clusters partially visible in the background are even more green):

Veraison 2013 Mourvedre

Looking at the date at which we first saw veraison over the last several years, and the date on which harvest began, gives us pretty reliable predictive powers about this year.  The last six years have produced a range of between 39 and 49 days between first signs of veraison and the debut of harvest.  Looking forward 39 and 49 days from July 17th gives us a range of possible harvest start dates between August 25th and September 4th.  Given that our average start date over the last thirteen vintages has been September 7th, it looks like we're almost exactly a week ahead of that average, though we'll be unlikely to threaten our earliest-ever start of August 23rd, in 2004.

Click on the year to link to the blog post I put up that year about veraison, if you want details and photos:

Year First Veraison NotedHarvest Begins
# of Days
2007 July 20 August 28
2008 July 23 September 3
2009 July 20 September 1
July 30 September 16 49
2011 August 5 September 20 47
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 ? ?

The weather over coming weeks will determine whether we're at the shorter or longer range of these dates.  2010 and 2011, which show the longest interval between veraison and harvest, were not coincidentally the two coolest years in our history.  And 2007 and 2012 (at 39 and 42 days, respectively) were our two warmest.

Up until now, we knew the clock was ticking.  We just didn't know how much time was left on the timer.  Now we do.