The Okanagan’s Dirty Secret

Is it the Dirty Laundry Winery?

No. That’s actually a little bit of colonial Canadian culture using the Okanagan to market Canada to itself by romanticizing prostitution. That’s easy. No, no, I mean the freaking air. Or, rather, its replacement with smoke and car exhaust.

Maybe building a city 150 miles long was a bad idea.

But, hey, party on.

But maybe you could walk?

Veraison or The Time of Ripening

The green balls of malolactic and citric acid are turning to tartaric acid now, and depositing sugars as water flow into grape berries decreases. The skins of the grapes are beginning their mysteries, adding the flavours that will define the wine, through CAM photosynthesis (such as you find in pineapples and cactus and cabbages). CAM plants make malolactic acid during the day and convert it to sugars in the night, when they don’t have to lose their water to breathe and take in oxygen. In grapes, CAM synthesis only takes place, slightly, in the skins, but it is enough. The mysteries of fermentation begin here, laying down the compounds that the yeast will transform in their intestinal tracts during fermentation, and which we know as the flavours of wine. Actually, they are the art that yeast make.P1470615

These are the deep mysteries. Note how the yeast is beginning to form on the skins of the grapes, in preparation for the transformations of winter. It is all one event, based on this one magical moment: the moment of ripening, when the grapes transform their nature entirely, and before the angels of the yeast reveal it (and the human tongue receives it.) This is an ancient sacrament.


The Green Green Grapes of Home

Last week, I was speaking about the potential of the various languages within English for creating a new language for science. I think there’s something I should have explained, so let me get it out of the way. Without words for something, it doesn’t get developed into agricultural and scientific possibility. Here, for example, are some grapes grown for wine above my house…

p1240113The image was made in September. They’re off the vine now and fermenting in a shed in Kelowna, to the south. Here’s another image from September, however, in which I wondered out loud what was going on. These are wild grapes…

p1240246As you can see, they have a wide variety of maturities. What does it mean for wine? I wondered. What does it mean for the plant? There are no answers, because scientists are concerned about very practical issues around the story of wine-making and these, being wild grapes, are outside of that story. Or are they? Look at them now…


Not much left, is there. Oh, but there is. Let’s poke around in this canopy of vines on top of this black hawthorn tree…P1330551 Yeah, the birds got the ripe grapes, leaving these green ones behind. They’re going to get through the winter in much this shape, I expect. There’s a lot of them, too…P1330549 Now, earlier in the year, back in July, let’s say, these grapes would have been exactly this colour, and would have been nearly 100% citric acid. Then came the magic of transformation, the skins built up malic acid, and the fruits replaced their acid bit by bit with sugars, and out of that comes wine. This isn’t July, though. Now these grapes are only half as hard as they were back then, scarcely sour, and, well, look at them in the light …P1330542 Beautiful, aren’t they. They’re scarcely sour, their seeds are mature, and they’re going through a complex process of maturity that is nothing like that which their sisters went through in July. Where will it lead? Well, for the moment, to a cool climate environment of slow maturation with little sunlight, in the shade, yet cleared of the competition of tight clusters.P1330541 Some of those early purple grapes remain, and will live off of their sugars through the winter…P1330540… just as these will live off of their acids. It’s like wine, actually. The best wines, the ones that keep the longest, have strong, complex acids, which they digest slowly over long periods of time, in the dark. Well, here it is, happening right on the vine. The point about language is, if fermentation is understood as a process that goes on in barrels, in the juice of dark berries picked out of the sunlight, the contribution of this other type of maturity is lost to the wine-making process. Similarly, if this wild grape plant is called a weed, it will be ignored, and if we’re using language of heat and sunlight to describe wine grapes, the blend of maturities within these grapes will be lost to the wine-making process. In short, we will be telling a story by making wine, but one far diminished from the one we could tell. I’m all for telling good stories.


Tomorrow: details on what language can offer to science.


Winemakers, Risk All!

Compare. Grapes grown on pruned vines.

P1240113 This is a very mechanized form of farming that sells itself as peasant romance.


The Rise, Vernon

Now, compare. Here are some wild vines, growing in the Roman way — over a tree. In this case, a hawthorn. The difference between the grapes here and the industrial ones above is surprising.


Wild French Hybrid Grapes, Vernon

Notice the wild variation in maturity: from nearly ripe berries to ones that haven’t even started to differentiate yet and are still sacs of almost pure citric acid. And that’s a juicy bunch. Look at this one:

P1240244 Greener yet, eh! Why? Do grapes get through the winter this way? Is this the real way to make ice wine? What do such extremes of maturity do for the plant? To tell you the truth, no one knows. No one has looked into it, because the study of wine grapes is driven by industrial needs, and those processes are already finely tuned. I am, however, intrigued by what might have been missed, and what might be learned from that.

P1240251This guy knows, maybe.

Stink bug, home sweet home.

Perhaps there’s an entirely different wine harvesting season than the one currently in vogue. Perhaps the acids play a role that remains unexplored. Perhaps a new beverage can be made by harvesting this possibility. I don’t know. No one does. No wine grower would let his grapes go wild like this, but there they are, telling their story. Meanwhile, the cloned grapes tell theirs.

P1240115All plump and identical.

I think wine making is about predictability. Maybe it needs a little adventure.