It’s a fascinating time of year here at the moment, as many of the wineries have started picking their grapes – certainly, their white varietals which usually ripen first.

It’s all happening at the vineyards!

The term ‘veraison’ has been on everyone’s lips – meaning the grapes are starting to change colour and mature, plump up and soften, as the sugars start to form. And to make great wine, the grapes have to be picked at exactly the right time.

Why? Well, if the grapes are picked too young, they’ll be too acidic, the sugars will be too low and the tannins really aggressive. And unlike some other fruits, grapes don’t continue to ripen after they’ve been picked. But if picked too late, the sugar levels will be too high, the acids too low and the tannins won’t provide the wine with the structure it needs. So vineyard managers use a refractometer (yes, try saying THAT after a drink!) in the vineyard to measure sugar levels. The higher the sugar, the riper the grapes.

Grapes starting to change colour

IMAGE CREDIT ~ Helen’s Hill Winery

But get this – over and above the science, winemakers have to consider even more factors when deciding when to pick – the weather for starters. If it’s about to get really hot, or there’s a cool spell coming with a dump of rain, they may be forced to pick.

The more we learn about the process, the more we realise just how stressful being a farmer is (of grapes or any crop). We look at the weather and groan if it’s going to rain on our BBQ – the winemakers groan for a way bigger, more expensive reason!

When do they pick the grapes?

While we’re all fast asleep, many of our friends are out there in the vineyards picking – that’s right, at night! And if not overnight then blindingly early in the morning. And it makes sense for a few reasons – but namely that it’s coolest then. Cooler grapes are less likely to be bruised during picking and at night, the sugar levels in the grapes are stable, and the acid levels are better. If the grapes are picked when they’re cooler it also reduces the energy it takes to cool them before they can be pressed or fermented back at the winery. See how much there is to learn about it all – and this is just about picking!!!

People picking grapes

IMAGE CREDIT ~ Boat ‘O’ Craigo

Red wine grapes in tub with hands presenting them.

IMAGE CREDIT ~ Boat 'O' Craigo

How's the vintage looking so far?

Our mates over at Boat 'O' Craigo have had a massive week of picking in their Healesville vineyard, with literally tonnes of fruit coming off the vines, it's been an enormous effort from everyone in their team. They picked Chardonnay and Pinot first, for their Sparkling base and moved along to Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris before the week was out. All their grapes are handpick and hand-sorted, which is an extraordinary amount of manual work! And they reckon the quality of their fruit stock is spectacular so far this vintage, which is great news as it was pretty wet in the lead up.

Over at Payten & Jones they are singing a similar tune – Troy said ‘What was touted by the experts to be a long, hot and dry summer has in fact been… the opposite. It’s been mild, with cool nights, rain when it was needed and at this stage, we’re looking at maybe one of the best vintages since ‘92… That’s according to Peter Payten who, after 45 years as a vineyard manager should know a thing or two!’

And then what happens?

If you’ve ever wondered what happens once the grapes arrive at the winery – you’re not alone. On our tours the cellar door staff often talk our guests through their particular process, but it’s hard to take it all in and some of the terms if you’re not familiar with them can cause confusion. And sometimes it’s easier to see it in picture form.

Here’s a great infographic describing the white wine making process.



If this kind of stuff floats your boat, seriously consider doing a tour with us during vintage, because to see it all in action is the best way to understand it and the staff at the cellar doors we visit are more than happy to talk you through their methods as each place differs. And if we know you’re interested, we’ll specifically visit smaller places where we know you’ll get a birds eye view of the action in the winery.