The Beauty of Harvest in the Okanagan
Harvest is a truly magical time of year. Often the culmination of several years of work, each year brings an opportunity to improve, adapt and experiment, all while taking into account the directions of Mother Nature herself.
This vintage, we have been blessed with blue, smoke-free skies for the entire season but challenged by a cool, slow start. The unseasonably cold June has pushed harvest at least two weeks behind. Challenges like these can not be planned for and change each year. But, whether it be rain on ripe, delicate berries, or snow in October, viticulturists and winemakers have learned to take these challenges in their stride.
Having made it through the flowering, budding, veraison and now full ripening, winemakers and viticulturists must now choose when to pick the grapes based on several factors. Arguably the most important is sugar level. The sugar level indicates ripeness, which affects the wine's final aromas and flavours and the final alcohol level and sweetness. As the grapes get closer to the desired sugar level for their intended purpose, viticulturists and winemakers will take samples daily until they are ready to pick.
Almost all of the Okanagan grapes are picked by hand, and all of the Lake Country vineyards are hand-harvested. The teams doing this work vary, from family and friends at smaller wineries to seasonal workers who return each year at larger wineries.
Once the grapes are off the vines and on the crush pad, the winemaker and their team have much work ahead! Grapes are weighed upon arrival and processed in various styles depending on the final product.
Below we have explained a few of the key terms you might hear to describe the various processes happening on the crush pad and cellar during this busy time. You will be explaining the magic of winemaking to your friends in no time!
Winemaking terms you can learn today!
Crusher: Splits open the grapes in order to release more juice for fermentation and/or pressing. This can sometimes be done in the machine as the de-stemmer below.
De-Stemming: The process of removing the fruit from the stems, usually with a machine.
Fermentation: The chemical reaction where yeast turns sugar into alcohol and Co2.
Lees: The sediment at the bottom of a tank after fermentation, it is made up of dead yeast, grapes seeds, and other solids. Often removed by racking (taking the wine from the top) or, it can be left with the wine for an extended period to add another dimension of flavour and texture.
Maceration: The process of grape juice and skins fermenting together to allow the skins to impart colour and flavours - the most common method with red wines.
Must: Unfermented grape juice, includes skins and seeds.
Pomace: The grape skins and seed left after the juice has pressed off.
Press: A machine that presses the grapes to extract the juice. Winemakers can adjust the press to 'squeeze' more intensely or lightly, depending on the wine.
Punch-Downs: Using various tools, usually similar to a very large potato masher, push the cap (all the solids—grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp—rise to the surface) on top of the tank or vessel to the bottom.
Pump-Overs: The process of pumping juice from the bottom of the tank and putting it over the cap at the top to push the material down into the juice.
Sorting Table: A table with a belt that passes by several people who sort or clean out anything not wanted in the following process, e.g. leaves, un-ripe clusters or even the odd object from the vineyard.
Tannins: This compound in grape skins creates a bitter, sometimes astringent feeling and gives structure to the wine. Tannins are strongest with young wines and soften with age.
Yield: The volume of grapes harvested in a year. Often measured in tonnes, and sometimes tonnes/acres.
Visit a Lake Country Scenic Sip winery, this harvest, and you may just see one of these processes in action!