This time of year the grapes are changing color, the sun is shining and the vineyards in Sonoma County look absolutely beautiful. With harvest right around the corner, we decided to take a trip out to the vineyards with Kendall-Jackson’s Winemaster Randy Ullom to check on the status of the grapes. During late summer, the grape berry has finished its growth and has begun to ripen and change color — this process is called veraison, which is a good indicator that harvest is fast approaching.
Veraison occurs in both red and white grapes, although it is much more apparent in red grapes. The Cabernet grapes boasted a stunning array of colors, from the brightest of greens to the darkest of purples. Randy was thrilled about the progress of the Chardonnay grapes this year. He showed us some “nuclear” clusters, which were some of the largest I’ve ever seen! These large clusters occur when multiple, healthy bunches of grapes emerge off of one stem.
To get the complete vineyard experience, we also tasted a few of the grapes. The Chardonnay, while slightly bitter, were so delicious and came through with a clear crisp apple flavor — I even wanted to sneak a bunch back home with me!
At the last vineyard we visited, Randy introduced us to a handy tool called a refractometer, which uses light to measure the amount of sugar in a grape. Randy demonstrated how it worked by squeezing the juice onto the sensor of the refractometer and then held it up to the light to look through it. Looking into the refractometer reveals a measurement scale. A dark blue line appeared across the number that correlates with the amount of sugar in the grape — referred to as the percentage Brix. The grapes we examined ranged from about 10 to 15 percent Brix. Randy told us that ideally, grapes should be around 25 percent Brix for harvest — so those particular Chardonnay grapes had a little more ripening to do.
This trip gave us the chance to appreciate the beauty of the vineyards as well as gain insight into all that goes into making an amazing bottle of wine year after year. Cheers to the upcoming harvest!