Tracking grape ripening

By Terence Bradshaw

As harvest approaches, it is critical to track ripening in the vineyard to best achieve the juice chemistry values to optimize wine quality. Sampling should be methodical and regular (at least weekly, or more often as harvest approaches). Generally a 100 berry sample is sufficient to ascertain general ripeness. Berries should be randomly selected, but should come from a diverse distribution in the vineyard: from all parts (top, shoulder, bottom) of the cluster, and from clusters well-distributed through the canopy. Fruit can be collected into a plastic bag, crushed lightly, then a corner of the bag cut off to squeeze juice into a sampling jar. Juice should then be assessed for pH, sugars, and titratable acidity (TA). Remember that for most popular cold climate grapes, TA is a primary determinant for ripeness; for reds (Frontenac, Marquette), a target TA of 1.5% or lower is preferred; for whites, 1.2% should be considered the upper end, although La Crescent may frequently have higher values. Ideally, all grapes for winemaking should have TA below 1%, but that is not always possible for the cultivars that we grow. Work with any wineries you plan to sell grapes to to determine their preferred juice chemistry levels before harvest.

Juice chemistry tracking for cultivars in the UVM vineyard may be found at: http://www.uvm.edu/~fruit/grapes/uvmvineyard/2016UVMfieldtesting.pdf

A primer video on evaluating grape ripeness may be found at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/small-farms/crops/knowing-when-to-harvest-your-grapes/

Dr. Imed Dami at Ohio State has a good fact sheet on evaluating grape ripeness at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-1436

Sugar level and pH are easily evaluated with simple tools (a refractometer and pH meter, respectively) available from most winemaking supply outlets. TA test kits are typically available from the same vendors. A procedure for measure TA through titration is available at: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/wine/titratable-acidity

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