Why now is the time to visit your favorite winery

Why now is the time to visit your favorite winery

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

A hike through the German vineyards is generally a peaceful endeavor, but not at this time of the year. As office workers peck on their keyboards and mechanics turn their tools, winemakers and their helpers are getting down to the all-important business of plucking the grapes from their vines. In some cases, this work will take place by harvesting machines. Smaller operations and top-end wineries will harvest their most prized grapes by hand.

The question on every winemaker’s mind come this time of the year is when exactly to begin the harvest. For every day the grape remains on the vine, its sugar content (measured in terms of Oechsle in Germany) increases incrementally, and it’s the sugars in the grape that convert into alcohol as a wine matures. Too much sugar in a grape, however, can lead to a wine that’s too high in alcohol, and believe it or not, that’s not always a good thing. For a wine must be a well-balanced symphony in which sugars, acidity, tannins and flavor compounds all play their parts in perfect harmony. According to the website of the Rhein-Ahr wine region, a German red such as a Spätburgunder, known elsewhere as a Pinot Noir, would typically come in at 12% – 14.5% alcohol, a German dry white such as a Silvaner from 11% - 14%. Of course, this varies by region, harvest year and the vintner’s vision.

The winemaker must also take into consideration the weather. The grapes should be harvested under dry conditions. If it rains, the grapes can take on water which dilutes their taste and throws off the delicate balance between sugar and acidity, and the threat of mold and spoilage sets in. A sudden hailstorm can destroy the work of an entire season in seconds flat.

The first harvest of 2020 got underway on August 10 in the Pfalz growing area, when a winemaker from Weisenheim am Sand plucked the grapes meant for Federweisser, the fizzy, still-fermenting new wine that’s typically enjoying alongside a slice of Zweibelkuchen, or onion tart, during the autumn months. But the lion’s share of the grapes will be plucked from the vines from now into early October.

Various publications have already made their prognoses for the harvest of 2020. The consensus is the volume of grapes to be picked countrywide will hover around the average for the past decades. Early frosts caused significant damage in some areas, and what rain fell over the summer was distributed very unevenly, meaning drought was an issue in some places, particularly for the younger vines, whose roots don’t run so deep. And too much sun in August essentially fried the grapes in a few places.

Even in this year’s marked absence of fests, it’s still possible to get in on many forms of wine-based action. Whereas white wines are ready to drink by the spring of the following year, it takes closer to a year for most reds to mature to drinkability. At this time of the year, vintners are unveiling the fruits of their labor from the previous year, so fans of Dornfelder, Spätburgunder and other reds can see just what the year 2019 brought about in terms of their favorite pours.

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