Summer’s here, and we are sizing things up here at Bartholomew Estate. The vines are growing, of course, but more importantly, so are the grapes they bear. While wine grape varieties, even at full maturity, are generally much smaller than the table grapes you buy at the store, they do get significantly larger during the season. We are watching them “size up” right now, their first step toward ripeness.
Grapes start off so small they’re barely visible, and end up about half the diameter of a dime. Great things definitely do come in small packages! The only exception is Zinfandel, which runs twice as large. They are so large, in fact, that before the ascendancy of the Thompson Seedless variety, it was once sold as a table grape as well as a wine grape. This always surprises people when I tell them about it.
Because wines, generally, are not sweet, no one expects wine grapes to be sweet, either, but they are. By the time we pick them for wine they are, in fact, nearly twice as sweet as the ones sold in supermarkets. Like all produce that must survive being picked, packed, stored and shipped, table grapes cannot really be picked at their peak of ripeness. But wine grapes can and they must be to make great wine.
We can do this because we are just going to take them from the field to the winery, within a few hours of harvest, and squash them in the press or crusher anyway, so we don’t care if a few get squished ahead of time. And it’s only by getting them fully ripe that we can get the full flavor that ends up in the wine. Wine is sunshine in a glass, they say, and this is the time of year they’re out there soaking it in!
~Kevin Holt, Winemaker