by Jan Maguire
Who doesn’t remember the iconic I Love Lucy grape-stomping scene when the hilarious comedian frolicked in a vat of grapes? This fall in wine country, you can indulge your own grape-stomping fantasy at festive celebrations taking place around the valley and at Sonoma Valley’s charming wineries. If you want to learn first-hand how winemakers skillfully transform grapes on the vine into world-class wines, this is the ideal time to do it. But to really appreciate this fruitful evolution, here are a few basics to know before you go.
Prior to harvest, the grape clusters undergo a fascinating transformation known as veraison, a French term that translates into “the onset of ripening.” The berries stop growing, bursting forth in color and juice—the quality of the grape affects the caliber of the wine and timing can vary depending on the varietal. For winemakers, harvest season, also known as crush, is exciting and challenging. It requires a canny combination of experience, intuition, grape sampling, monitoring the sugar content (called Brix) and acidity levels, along with responding quickly to any dramatic climate changes.
When Sonoma Valley vintners determine that it’s time to pick, production kicks into full gear—the luscious grapes are freshly hand-picked, sorted for quality at the winery (a process called triage), and then machine crushed and de-stemmed, a step that gently splits the skin to expose the flesh and release the juice. From that point it’s on to the art of pressing and/or fermentation resulting in the wide array of superb wines coming out of Sonoma Valley.