Veraison, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is a physiological stage of grape development where the berries stop accumulating mass and start accumulating sugar. More visibly, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. The onset of veraison comes roughly six weeks before the beginning of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for what sort of schedule we're likely looking at. And it's lovely. Witness this Tannat cluster, roughly halfway through veraison as of this morning:
The fact that I'm writing about veraison in late August is remarkable enough, though anyone following the progress of the vineyard this year will know that we're looking at our latest harvest since at least 2011. But at this point, with the weather turned warm and perfect, things are moving fast. I thought I'd take a quick romp through all the different red Rhone varieties to give you a sense of where each stands. At the end, I've included a chart with how this year compares to other recent years and made some predictions about when we're likely to start picking.
We spotted our first color in the vineyard in Syrah on August 7th. Now, a little more than two weeks later, every variety is showing at least the first stages of color change, and the early grapes are mostly red. I'll start with Syrah, as usual the first Rhone red to enter version and the fastest to change colors, and go roughly from most-veraison to least. The cluster here is a bit ahead of the average in the vineyard, and I'd estimate that we're probably around 70% through veraison in Syrah overall:
Next is probably Muscardin. I'm not sure whether this is unusual or not, since it is our newest arrival and we don't have many years of history. It's not as dark red as Syrah (nor will it be at harvest) but overall it looks like it's about 50% of the way through:
Next, somewhat surprisingly, is Mourvedre. That doesn't mean that we're expecting it to start coming in before mid-October, but it's not unusual that we're seeing fairly advanced color change at this point. It just takes longer than the others between this stage and being ready to pick. These clusters are fairly typical, and I'd estimate it's 30% through overall:
Grenache is next in line, at roughly 20% veraison overall. It's always a particularly pretty grape to watch change color, with the berries turning jewel-like in the sun. Look for lots more Grenache pictures in the next month:
Terret Noir is at a similar percent through veraison as Grenache, maybe 20% overall, though it's a little more uniform because we only have one block. This was one of the most advanced clusters. Note the characteristic large berries:
Vaccarese was still mostly green. We're getting into grapes where it was often a challenge to find clusters with more than a few pink berries, and I'd estimate Vaccarese at 2-3% veraison:
Cinsaut was similar, which was a surprise to me. It's not a super late ripener, and the literature says it ripens pretty much in synch with Grenache. But the cluster below was one of just a few with any color at all:
Finally, Counoise. It took some searching to find any color. This cluster, with a few pink-purple berries in a sea of green, is about as advanced as it gets. I'd estimate we're around 1% on Counoise, overall:
Although it's less exciting visually than with reds, white grapes too go through veraison. The grapes turn from green to something a little yellower, and soften and start to get sweet. They also become more translucent. The process happens over a continuum as it does in the reds. Viognier goes first, followed by Vermentino, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, with Picpoul and Roussanne bringing up the rear. You can see the slightly golden tone that these clusters of Viognier (left) and Grenache Blanc (right) are starting to pick up:
While the veraison posts you're likely seeing from your favorite wineries may make it seem like veraison is a moment, like Christmas, it's probably better understood as a continuum, like winter, and first veraison is like first frost, or first snowfall. It will likely be a week or two so before even all the Syrah clusters at Tablas are red, and more than a month until the last clusters of later grapes like Mourvedre and Counoise have finished coloring up.
While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between the onset of veraison and the beginning of harvest, it's not totally constant, and will be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying and the inherent tendencies of the different varieties. For example, a consistently cool summer and a plentiful crop in 2010 gave us a full seven weeks between veraison and our first harvest, while 2021's consistent heat and low yields gave us just a five week interim. Each vintage since 2010 is compiled in the chart below, with each year linked to my blog post about that year's veraison:
|First Veraison Noted
|Estate Harvest Begins
|# of Days
Using the range of durations between first veraison and first harvest (34 to 49 days) we can have good confidence that we'll begin picking sometime between September 10th and September 25th. The weather between now and then will determine where in the range we'll fall, influenced as well by the crop levels, since lighter crops ripen faster than heavier ones. It looks like we're seeing medium crop levels this year, better than the last few years but not at the levels we saw in a year like 2017, which suggests we'd trend toward the middle of the range above. But it has been a cool summer, and you'd expect it to be cooler in late August and early September than you would in late July and early August. I'm not expecting to have to wait into mid-September this year or to challenge 2011 as our latest start to harvest ever, but time will tell.
What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. That progress is already happening fast, and the view in the vineyard is changing daily. We'll be posting regular photos of veraison's progress on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. In a few weeks, we'll start sampling the early varieties, looking for the moment when the flavors are fully developed and the balance of sugars and acids ideal. In the cellar, we've already started to get ready by finishing our blending of the 2022s and pulling out and checking on all the tanks and equipment we'll need once harvest begins. It's likely too that we'll see some grapes from Patelin or Lignée vineyards, and from the Haas Vineyard Pinot Noir, before anything comes off our estate. Those grapes should start coming in a couple of weeks.
So, now we wait, and enjoy the show. We have an idea of how much time is in our hourglass, and we know it's been turned over.