Wine emblem sculpted from polymer clay, depicting veraison of red grapes — Artwork by Melanie Wynne

Tendrils of excitement have been snaking their way across Sonoma County this past week, as veraison (“vehr-ray-zohn”) is at last upon us. As depicted in my polymer clay wine emblem above, veraison is the period in a grapevine’s annual lifecycle when hard, opaque green grapes begin to ripen, swelling with water and sugars. Green varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc simply become more translucent, while the berries of red varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir transition to, well…red.

Pinot Noir gettin’ its veraison on at MacRostie Winery & Vineyards in the Russian River Valley — Photo by Melanie Wynne

Throughout the spring, little grape clusters are busily gathering chlorophyll, which gives them their green color. During this time, they’re hard and bitterly acidic in order to fend off hungry birds, their greatest natural enemy.

But once veraison begins, that chlorophyll is slowly replaced by pigments — anthocyanins in red varietals and carotenoids in green varietals. Anthocyanins can be found in red and blue fruits and flowers, such as cherries, blueberries, and hydrangeas, and carotenoids are found in red, orange and yellow fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and papaya.

Cabernet Franc in the full throes of veraison at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Loudon County, Virginia — Photo by Melanie Wynne

As these pigments intensify, the grapes themselves swell with water, glucose and fructose. Acid levels drop as the sugar levels rise, varietal aromas begin to develop, and skins stretch thin as the berries grow larger and softer. Veraison is an all-five-senses expression of sheer anticipation.

How big is this wine emblem? Just a little bigger than this cork. — Artwork by Melanie Wynne

In the Northern Hemisphere, this glorious process of veraison begins in mid- to late July and takes anywhere from 30-70 days to reach optimum ripeness — or as wine folks like to call it, “harvest time.”

So get out there to a vineyard and watch the colors turn!