Classic shot-berry Zinfandel at veraison (Mencarini Vineyards, west-side, Mokelumne River AVA
During the past two weeks Lodi Wine Country has been in the midst of véraison: the originally French viticultural term which translates into “onset of ripening.”
What is happening before our eyes? Berries in grapes destined to produce red wines are beginning to don their mid-season apparel – brilliant, beautiful shades of red, violet and blue – as the green colored chlorophyll in their skins start to break down. It is a spectacular time of year. Berries destined to produce white wines begin to form carotenoids; while in red wine varieties, anthocyanins, xanthophylls, flavonoids, volatile compounds, and phenolic compounds – building blocks crucial to red wine flavors – begin their beguine… the dance to the relentless rhythms of summer and fall.
LangeTwins Sauvignon Musque (Lodi’s Jahant AVA) in mid-July, just 4 weeks from harvest!
Technically, grape berries follow a double sigmoid growth curve – their pre-veraison growth phase primarily entailing cell division and cell expansion. When berries finally get through the between-period of veraison, their fruit acidity will start to decrease as malic acid recedes and tartaric acid begins to accumulate, along with hexose sugars (glucose and fructose). Wine grapes are beginning to look like, and taste like, “wine” grapes!
At this time of year activity in the vine leaves is as important as ever, as sugar ripening is directly dependent upon the process of photosynthesis. If anything should happen to cause photosynthesis to fail – yellowing of leaves caused by lack of nutrition or infestation of mites, or viruses such as leafroll which turn the leaves a premature red – the process of fruit ripening grinds to a halt. No bueno.
At the same time, if there is an excess of foliage caused by unregulated deficit irrigation, or improper pruning or canopy management, vines invariably expend their limited time, and resources of energy and nutrients drawn from soil and sunlight, to lengthening of canes rather than on ripening of fruit. They end up like kids who dawdle; inviting a host of issues, such as detrimental shading, which can lead to bunch rot or powdery mildew, and the simple inability to engineer a reasonable balance of sugar and flavor ripeness prior to the onslaught of rains and temperature drops typical of fall in winegrowing regions. The race is on!
Veraison’s multi-colored transition from berry growth to berry ripening is also a signal that we are at a mid-point in the grapes’ seasonal growth. The crowds are gathering, and harvest is really not far away: white wine grapes prized for their lightness and elevated acidity – such as Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Albariño – will be picked this year by the second and third weeks of August. Earlier ripening red wine grapes like Zinfandel and Cinsaut will start to come off the vine by mid-September, while slower growing cultivars such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah will need until October to achieve an optimal balance of sugar, total acidity, pH, and pure, sensory flavor.
Mid-July Syrah under quadrilateral trellis of Ross Schmiedt’s CLR Farms (east-side, Mokelumne River AVA)
But it’s still July in the Delta. Outside thermometers are reading “hot,” while in the fields vines are headed in a marathon sprint towards another “vintage” finish: will 2013 be a good or even “great” year, or will October see winegrowers and winery owners crying in their beers?
Some photographic scenes of veraison 2013 in Lodi, all taken during the past two weeks:
Zinfandel in Harney Lane’s Lizzy James Vineyard (east-side, Mokelumne River), showing “hens-and-chicks” berry sizes typical of the variety
Harney Lane winemaker Chad Joseph in Lizzy James Vineyard (planted 1904)
Vines with character: ancient, gnarled Zinfandel in Lizzy James Vineyard
In mid-July, still a number of tiny, green Zinfandel clusters in Lizzy James Vineyard
Harney Lane’s Ranger, taking advantage of shade in Lizzy James Vineyard
Big berried Cinsaut in Bechthold Vineyard, Lodi’s oldest vines (planted 1886, west-side, Mokelumne River AVA), just dusted in diatamaceous earth to prevent sunburn
127-year old Cinsaut in Bechthold Vineyard
Trunk of one of the more wizened vines in Bechthold Vineyard
Classic Zinfandel cluster in Soucie Vineyard: larger, tight bunches reflecting the rich sandy loam of Mokelumne River AVA’s far-west side
Although less than a mile away from Soucie Vineyard, clonal differences in Maley Vineyards’ Zinfandel result in smaller, looser clusters (west-side, Mokelumne River AVA)
Gargantuan Zinfandel (planted 1901) in Mohr-Fry Ranches’ Marian’s Vineyard
In Mohr-Fry’s Marian’s Vineyard: grower/owner Jerry Fry, wine blogger Elaine Brown (wakawakawinereviews.com), St. Amant’s Stuart Spencer, and Bruce Fry talk old vine zin
Vertical of St. Amant Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel (2004 thru 2011) , reflecting the “mother of old vine Lodi Zinfandel”
Michael McCay with 97-year old Zinfandel in his Lot 13 Vineyard (in between Ross Schmiedt’s Dairy Vineyard and Tegan Passalacqua’s Kirschenmann Vineyard)
A delicate, ancient Tokay (planted 1888) in Jessie’s Grove, showing some of vestiges of the early July heat wave (note the “fried” grapes)
Rare Piquepoul Blanc grapes (makes super-high acid whites) in Acquiesce Vineyards (east-side, Mokelumne River AVA, bordering Jahant AVA)
Acquiesce owner/grower Sue Tipton showing off her Grenache Blanc, a classic “white Rhone” grape
Acquiesce Vineyards Roussanne
Old Zinfandel in Turley Wine Cellars’ Dogtown Vineyard (first planted in 1944); dry farmed in the classic rolling, clay-sandy loam hills of Lodi’s Clements Hills AVA
Small, almost Pinot Noir-sized pre-veraison Zinfandel clusters in Turley’s Dogtown Vineyard
Epitome of “small-vine” Zinfandel viticulture in Turley’s Dogtown Vineyard
In Dogtown Vineyard: Elaine Brown with Turley winemaker/vineyard manager Tegan Passalacqua
Alicante Bouschet among Zinfandel plantings in Ross Schmiedt’s Dairy Vineyard
Tegan Passlacqua demonstrating the red staining Alicante Bouschet grape (a rare teinturier — a wine grape with red rather than white juice)
Extremely rare Mondeuse, one of odd curiosities found in Tegan Passalacqua’s Zinfandel-dominant Kirschenmann Vineyard (east-side, Mokelumne River AVA)
Ancient Carignan, scattered among Zinfandel in Kirschenmann Vineyard (planted 1915)
Macchia owner/winemaker Tim Holdener among the bonsai-like Zinfandel vines dry farmed in the extremely porous beach sand-like soil of Noma Vineyard (east-side, Mokelumne River AVA)
Small berried, tiny, loose clustered Noma Vineyard Zinfandel
Note Noma Ranch’s extremely short canes, producing the smallest cluster/berry sizes of Zinfandel in all of Lodi (resulting in deep, powerful, higher acid Zinfandels)
A mile east of the own-rooted Noma Ranch, Tim Holdener’s Rous Vineyard Zinfandel planting (dating back to 1909; on St. George rootstocks; owned and farmed by Craig Rous) is more productive and yields a more feminine, floral style of Zinfandel
Zinfandel trunk in Rouss Vineyard
Colorful Sangiovese in Sorelle Vineyards, at south-east corner of the Lodi AVA (in background, the historic Dodge House, built 1866)
Transitioning Barbera in Sorelle Vineyard
Unidentifed wild grapes in Sorelle Vineyard (probably left from the 19th century El Pinal vineyards), on vines crawling over 50 ft. up on an ancient oak tree alongside the Calaveras River
Trellised Zinfandel in transition at Bokisch Ranches’ Vista Luna Vineyard
Heavily culled Zinfandel clusters dropped onto the cobbley-clay hillside soil of Vista Luna Vineyard (Lodi’s Borden Ranch AVA)
Boksich Ranches owner/grower Markus Bokisch walking on extremely cobbley-clay soil of his Sheldon Hills property, soon to be planted in Lodi’s Sloughhouse AVA
Close-up of the river rock clay Sloughhouse AVA soil of Sheldon Hills (a far cry from the silty, sandy loam of Lodi’s Mokelumne River region, where there’s not a stone or even bits of gravel to be found)
Tempranillo in Silvaspoons Vineyards (Lodi’s Alta Mesa AVA)
Silvaspoons owner/grower Ron Silva with his first-leaf Alvarinho (a.k.a. Albarino) planting
Classic long, loose clustered Torrontes in Silvaspoons Vineyards
Gorgeous Silvaspoons Verdelho, a month from harvest
What it’s all about: single-vineyard Silvspoons bottlings