30 May Bloom: The march to harvest
A wine grape grower’s year is marked by milestones beginning with bud break in the spring and culminating with harvest in the fall. Between these two events the vines go through bloom, fruit set and shatter – three events that occur within a span of a few weeks.
This is the first time the vineyard tips its hand to reveal its eventual yield.
During bloom, the flowering process begins with the development of tiny green spheres known as a calyptras (caps).
These small green balls surround the delicate pollen-carrying parts of the flower. The vines look like they have a tiny, green version of a grape cluster. The clusters serve as a protective package for the future grapes. When the time is right, the caps pop off to reveal small flower clusters. As the flowers open, pollen is released into the air and settles on the grapes.
Once pollinated, each flower transitions to a small hard green berry the size of a pea. Each pea eventually ripens into the grapes we know and love. It is during this time that mother nature can play her hand. If the weather is too hot, too cold, or rainy, the flowers will remain closed and won’t be pollinated. Strong winds can also disrupt the process by shaking the pollen from vines. Under these conditions, yields will be low as there are not as many grapes in each cluster.
Generally speaking, harvest begins one hundred days after flowering depending on variety and vineyard site. Currently, the Yakima Valley is just a few days behind last year’s bloom putting harvest at or around September 9, 2019.
A poor fruit set (fewer developed berries) means fewer grapes and a lighter crop. Fruit set is an extremely important stage for wine production, it determines the potential crop yield. This is the time that growers can begin to sense harvest potential by walking rows and counting how many berries are on each cluster. Yields are estimated later in the season by taking into account how many berries are on each cluster/vine and how big they are.
After the count, clusters are weighed. This is the “lag phase” of berry development, the berries are expected by be at their final harvest mass. These numbers are crunched with the planting density and acreage of the vineyard. The findings are projected onto the entire vineyard offering a yield estimate. If the estimate is high, and the vine sets more fruit than the grower can ripen, he can adjust by thinning clusters. The goal is to estimate within 5% of the final actual yield.
The onset of bloom means the weather is warming and it is time to start looking for light, crisp wines to stock up on. The following Yakima Valley wines are priced under $20 and ready for summer sipping.
Terra Blanca Winery, 2018 Arch Terrace Rosé
Aromas of raspberries and rose petals. Bright and beautiful, the acidity is perfect with a soft salmon-pink hue. $18
Airfield Estates Winery, 2018 Yakima Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Floral and vibrant, with nectarine and pear flavors that finish with snappy acidity. $15
14 Hands, Brut Rosé
This sparkling rosé offers aromas of strawberry with flavors of cherry with a hint of cinnamon. A bright refreshing finish makes this a perfect patio sipper. $15