This is my favorite time of year in the grape vineyard annual cycle. Across the globe, tens of thousands of grape growers are in the midst of the annual harvest season.
Some have already harvested their bounty. It is safe in the winery, having been recently crushed and is now fermenting and developing its unique characteristics as it evolves and matures into a wine that bears the signature of the winemaker.
If harvested at the height of the ripeness curve, and barring any sudden intervention from nature in the form of a sudden rainfall, this year’s harvest has the potential of a standout vintage in many wine regions, one to cellar for the ages.
Other growers are waiting and watching for that precise moment when grape development is at its peak: full ripeness and the optimum balance of fruit, sugar and taste.
We are now experiencing the culmination of the seasons of the vineyard. The success of the 2018 grape harvest and the resulting wine production has been in the balance for much of the growing season.
Earlier this year, I reported on the weather patterns and conditions across the global grape-growing regions. From the ravages of hailstorms, frost, deluges and smoke-taint, it has been a difficult year to predict the final results of the harvest. Would it be a lost season of low crop yield and poor fruit? A season that reversed itself, salvaged by exceptional seasonal weather patterns and yielding a bountiful, quality harvest?
These are the questions and worries that haunted farmers from the early phases of bud set, through the maturation months and culminating in the mad dash to pick crops at the peak of ripeness.
We see this uncertainty in every season of nature’s bounty. In years of ideal weather conditions, fruits and vegetables are glories to behold. Tomatoes with luscious flavor and color, firm skin and sustained ripeness. Corn as bright as the sun itself, with rich sugars and starches that explode in one’s mouth. Likewise, grapes redolent of aromas and taste to please the most discerning palate, with sugar and flavor levels that will sustain the life and character of wines for years of aging.
However, in years in which nature is not so generous and gentle, we must suffer through mediocre produce that makes us yearn for previous years’ glory. Tomatoes characterized by flavorless juice and insipid coloring; flesh that splits open from the absorption of excessive rainfall. Corn that is as limpid as the color of the moon, flavorless and difficult to bite. And grapes ravaged by fungus or invading insects; or bulging with excessive water, rendering the fruit flavorless and unworthy of aging. In extreme years farmers may resort to destroying portions of harvests rather than produce and sell inferior fruits and vegetables.
It seems nature has been teasing grape growers for a good part of the 2018 season, but has redeemed herself at harvest time. The results so far have been quite encouraging. Late season weather has aided in salvaging the crops in many of the ravaged wine regions. Swaths of Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Spain are enjoying the bounty of an otherwise lost season, rising from seemingly certain disaster to produce wines of high quality, if low yields. California has survived the devastating wildfires in proximity to wine-growing regions; the feared smoke taint of grapes seems to have been largely avoided.
Overall, this year’s harvest compares favorably to the last few years. Much of this may be attributable to weather pattern extremes. The summer season was rainy in a number of wine regions, drought-laden in others and surprisingly ideal in a few blessed areas.
As the growing season approached harvest, weather patterns were generally favorable, salvaging many questionable vineyard yields and enhancing those with favorable conditions throughout the season.
This portends well for consumers, across the spectrum of wine production. Join me in raising your glass in thanks to the blessings of nature’s bounty for the 2018 vintage.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.