Ask Wine Wizard

Uneven Ripening Of Grapes


David Lodge — Smallfield, England asks,

I have an extremely small hobby vineyard of about 30 vines (mixed varieties) and find it hard to get help here in the United Kingdom with either advice or supplies and I do rely heavily on your magazine. I envy you in the States where you seem to have a lot of amateur growers and resources to match. This year the weather has been very unusual, and all fruit growth has been poor. I have some grapes that are now ripe and need to be harvested but others of the same variety in a different part of the vineyard are well behind and not yet ready. Can I pick the ripe ones now and freeze or chill them and wait until the others are ready and crush and process them all together, which may be in three- or four-weeks’ time? Would freezing be better than chilling?


Many thanks to you for being a WineMaker magazine reader! We love being a source of helpfulness in the sometimes difficult-to-navigate world that is international small-scale winemaking.

Uneven vineyard ripening is indeed a difficult thing to contend with. If one’s vineyard is large enough, it’s easy enough to divide it into “blocks” that ripen right about the same time and provide a convenient amount for winemaking purposes. When you’re dealing with 30 vines that ripen unevenly, I can see the difficulty; I’m going to guess you’ve probably got too much fruit to put into your freezer at once and too little to be able to ferment separately.

If you think that your grapes will be ready within a 3–4 week window, you can certainly freeze what I would call a “first batch” or the first wave of grapes to be ready, or as many as you can fit into your freezer. Keep in mind that frozen grape skins will already almost be pre-broken down and might be more difficult to press later on. Grapes can indeed be chilled under refrigeration, just as any fruit at the market. However, I would be wary of chilling down grapes longer than about 5–7 days because I think by that time the quality would deteriorate. Don’t forget, that once a grape is picked, wine starts on its own as the cells start to break down and ambient microbes on the grapes begin to make their way into the fruit. Is it possible to pick and ferment your vineyard in two small lots; one early and one late? That might be a good compromise.

Don’t forget, that once a grape is picked, wine starts on its own, as the cells start to break down and ambient microbes on the grapes begin to make their way into the fruit.

For the future, maybe there are some tricks from your own country you could employ to try to have a more even (and condensed) harvest. I’ve read that in the old walled kitchen gardens of stately homes in England the wily head gardeners would lay woven mats around blackcurrant bushes they wanted to “put off” while vines, bushes, and trees they wanted to “hasten” were planted next to warm south-facing brick walls. In this way, they were able to spread out the harvest and provide the master and mistress of the house with a longer season of choice fruits across many weeks and months. What you want to achieve is almost the opposite, i.e., get all of your grapes ready at once. You could try to do this by “shading” the earlier part of your vineyard by leaving more leaves or shoots on those vines, thereby retarding their ripening a little bit? Similarly, if you find the latest-ripening part of the vineyard is still behind, you should be sure to pull some leaves from around the fruiting zone of those vines in order to allow more sunlight in to hasten the ripening there. In this way you might be able to shave a week off of either side and find a more harmonious “middle of the road” harvest.

Response by Alison Crowe.