Labeling by Varietal: A California-based Trend
There’s a really informative section in Wine Enthusiast Magazine on Labeling which talks about the California-inspired trend of labeling wines by varietal, or in other words, the type of grape used in making the wine. In Europe, wines were named by region (I.E. “Burgundy”).
As mentioned in Wine Enthusiast’s section on labeling, California began naming their wines based on varietals in the mid 20th century as a way to indicate to consumers what specific grapes were being used in the product. This ensured the public knew what they were getting. For example, a “Pinot Noir” has to be composed of at least 75 percent of said grape. The rest of the blend is the winemaker’s little tasty secret.
So now we know why our California wines carry their distinctive titles. Now lets take a quick look at how the grapes come to be.
Here are the stages a grape vine goes through in a year’s time:
A vine starts the year off in dormancy, during the coldest months of the year. Roots may grow during this time, but there is no outward growth of the vines. Vines are pruned during this period to remove most of the old wood and to limit a grapevine’s yield for the following harvest by only letting a few shoots grow. By only leaving a few shoots, there are fewer buds remaining, and there will be a smaller fruit set on the vine.
Budbreak marks the end of dormancy, as buds burst open and small leaves begin unfolding. When a vine undergoes budbreak depends on its varietal, but typically occurs in March when daytime temperatures begin to average 46 to 50⁰F. The flowering stage occurs anywhere from mid-May to late
Flowering Stage of Grapes
June, about forty-five to ninety days after the occurrence of budbreak. At this time, small flower clusters appear on the tips of young shoots. The pollination and fertilization of the grapevine also take place at this time. Soon after flowering comes fruit set, when the fertilized flowers produce very small, green, and hard fruit that will ultimately become grapes; unfertilized blossoms will wither and fall off the shoot. There is rapid berry growth over the next several weeks.
Véraison, which means “coloring,” marks the start of a vine’s ripening stage and takes place at the end of July and into August. During véraison, there is an accumulation of sugar, flavors and aromas in the grapes as the berries gain their true color; white wine grapes become more yellow and red wine grapes darken to a reddish blue. This is the last stage of the growth cycle of the vine and the most important in ensuring that the vintage will be of high quality. Also, growers may
Grapes undergoing the veraison stage choose to prune their vines in the summer to thin their crop and remove some of the still-green clusters. Summer pruning isn’t necessary, though, when the crop has already been reduced by disease, frost, or damage to the flowers. The purpose of removing clusters at this time is to ensure timely ripening and good must concentration for the rest of the clusters. The length of the ripening stage is determined by the weather; grapes accumulate more sugar as the leaves receive more heat and light. Moreover, the more sugar a grape contains, the higher the alcohol content of the wine that is made from it.
As harvest approaches, the grape is considered ripe when he sugar and remaining acids are well balanced. A grower may choose to harvest the grapes before they are ripe, at their point of ideal ripeness, or when they are overripe; it all depends on the style of wine they are looking to achieve. Once harvest occurs, the leaves begin to fall off the vines and the green fruit-bearing shoots of the vine turn brown and lignify, becoming woody canes. The carbohydrates that had accumulated in the shoots are transported into the trunk and roots of the vine as it enters into dormancy and takes its winter rest before another growth cycle begins.