All of nature’s things take their own time–they can’t be forced or hurried…
After a summer’s labour in the vineyard and holding our breath between rain and hail, it would seem natural to lop off the ripe-looking grape clusters as quickly as possible to reassure ourselves of a bounty of fruit after such hard work.
But the grape harvest is – after all – decided by nature, in her own time and following her own rules.
The best we can do is follow along.
It’s essential to hold off the harvest until the grapes build up enough sugar—but—without losing the correct balance of sugar to acidity.
The intense violet of Nebbiolo grapes and the even more deeply-coloured Barbera can be deceptive.
Despite the colour of their skins, the grapes need to attain a particular level of maturity to release their anthocyanins and polyphenols into the wine.
And the pips? If you thought them relatively unimportant, think again: at times they are indeed the key to a good red wine. The tannins in the pips are shorter chains which lengthen over time; the shorter the tannin chains the bitterer and coarser the flavour; the longer they are the more pleasing the taste overall. If you wait for the right moment, the grape pips release round and elegant tannins into the must and thence the wine, creating body without belabouring the palate.
This is the time when the winemaker paces the vineyards, back and forth, from row to row, attempting to glean a sign that the right moment has arrived. Samples are taken to measure sugar and polyphenols to ensure they are in perfect balance.
And all the while, we wait.
And then without warning, the vendemmia begins and the calm of late summer erupts in the frenzy of the harvest.
The window of opportunity opens briefly and then closes.
Mountains of grape clusters pour into the cellars to be transformed into must, in a flurry of crates and hands and people.
The grape clusters are de-stemmed and pressed.
The must, in contact with the skins, begins the process of fermentation to transform sugars into alcohol, while maceration ensures extraction of colour along with the flavour and aromas of the terroir.
Cluster by cluster the vineyards empty and the vats fill. And so this year also, the vendemmia draws to a close and the slow and patient work of ageing the new wine over months and years begins.
The end of the vendemmia allows a brief moment to relax between harvest and pruning and to enjoy the fruit of past harvests, like a mature Barolo DOCG or a Langhe DOC Nebbiolo.
And the feeling of anticipation begins all over again, because good things take their own time and oblige us to bide ours.