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Summer Vineyard Action

A Different Kind of “Block Party”: Summer in the Vineyard

As the weather heats up, so does activity in the vineyard. Block by block, Raymond Reyes keeps a close watch as the grapes begin to change color, mature and develop into ripe clusters. Each vineyard has its own timeline, and each block within the vineyard expresses a unique maturation rate.

Raymond ReyesRaymond Reyes - Director of Winegrowing

As the weather heats up, so does activity in the vineyard. Block by block, Director of Winegrowing Raymond Reyes keeps a close watch as the vines begin to flower and transform into beautiful clusters of grapes. From the mountain tops of Spring Mountain to the rolling slopes of Carneros, each vineyard has its own timeline, and each block within the vineyard has its own idea about how to respond to summer. For Raymond and his team, walking the vineyards is a season-long necessity—and pleasure.

“In late May and early June, the breezes are perfumed with the fragrance of millions of tiny grapevine flowers in bloom,” he reveals.“For those of us who are fortunate to walk vineyards every day, the fragrance is exhilarating. You can't bottle this stuff, but if we could we would!”

Throughout July, the period called “fruit set” is critical: it’s when growers begin to get a good idea of the potential size of the harvest, and begin to make plans and schedules for picking the fruit in the coming months. "Our 2012 fruit set is nothing less than spectacular in all varieties and locations," says Raymond. "2012 is proving to be a year with an excellent sized crop, an awesome set, balanced vine growth and so far, ideal growing conditions."

The next step in the grapes’ development is called veraison, and it’s that special moment when the grapes start to change color and show the beginnings of ripeness. This process happens at different times depending on each vineyard’s elevation, orientation and microclimate.  Grapes need sunscreen in the summertime just like we do—and growers provide it by carefully managing the canopy so that the leaves filter just the right amount of sunlight to ripen, but not burn, the tender fruit.

Raymond and his team will be keeping a close watch on the progression of veraison across the various vineyards, because grapes for sparkling wine typically are picked a bit earlier than those for still wines, to keep their acid levels high.

“Great sparkling wines start with a still wine made from grapes with higher acidity and lower sugar levels,” Raymond explains. "Wine drinkers often believe grapes targeted for sparkling wines do not have to live up to the quality standards of still wines. In reality, we spend just as much time assuring a harmonious relationship exists between a healthy grape canopy and the 'right' number of grape clusters. We call this 'Vine Balance.'"

Raymond's team strives to create this partnership between canopy and clusters early in the cluster development stage. This attention to detail rewards the grapes with a uniform ripening profile that provides balanced acid levels and hints of varietal character with uniform color—all key components to crafting a great sparkling wine.

Summer also proves to be the time when the vineyard team uses their experience to make important predictions. "This is the season when I'm asked my favorite question: 'When is harvest going to start?'" Raymond says.  "I'll let you in on a little secret: for each individual block, harvest begins when the grapes are ripe! If pressed for a prediction I would say the vines look great, the crop has set beautifully, Mother Nature is cooperating… All should lead to a fabulous 2012 vintage!"

With the vines bursting into bloom, workers carefully tending each row to ensure balance throughout and the almost-mystical practice of determining just the right moment to pick, summertime in the vineyards of Chandon is an exciting season filled with the promise of a divine vintage. Raymond and his team are looking forward to a summer’s-worth of vineyard walks, block by block, to bring in perfect fruit: “We are anticipating our sparkling base wine varietals to be ‘plump’ with sweetness and great varietal character this vintage.” Cheers to another great summer in the vineyard!