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Sheep graze on grape vine leaves at Featherstone Estate Winery, to help expose the grapes to more sun in Vineland, Ont., in this file photo from July 16, 2008.

Sheryl Nadler/The Canadian Press

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One of the most important milestones in the growth of a grape vine is taking place in vineyards across the country and throughout the northern hemisphere. Véraison is when the vine turns its energy to ripening the grape clusters. Prior to this transformation, grapes are hard, green, and bitter. In a few months, they’ll be ripe and ready.

It’s hard to miss véraison’s effect on the vines as the grapes grow in size, soften and change colour. Berries in red wine varieties shift from green to purple, while white wine selections turn yellow-green or golden. The fruit of all grape varieties will transform into something more sweet, aromatic and pleasant to taste.

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Aided by warm, sunny and dry weather, véraison can start in some regions as early as July.

In the wine-growing areas of Ontario and British Columbia, it’s just under way. From this point, it can take a month or two until the grapes are ready to harvest for wine production. The time from véraison to harvest differs for each grape variety, depending on how much sun and warmth they require to fully ripen.

Sparkling wine producers in the Napa Valley received their first grapes last week, marking an early start to that region’s 2020 harvest. Grapes for sparkling wine are harvested with higher acidity levels, which helps create the desired crisp and refreshing style of wine. Grapes for Napa’s famous cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays remain on the vine.

Elsewhere, véraison is a signal to winemakers to gear up for harvest.

By the time véraison is nearly complete, grape growers can see which clusters are lagging behind. Those clusters are often removed to promote more even ripening and ensure the remaining bunches receive as many nutrients and sugars from the vine as possible.

Growers may also decide to trim leaves off of the vine to expose the fruit to more sunlight, which aids ripening.

Usually one of the most anticipated times of year in the vineyard, véraison comes with its own unique set of challenges in 2020. Many vineyards face decisions that go beyond ensuring ripe grapes and wine quality this year.

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Mounting economic uncertainty in the wake of lost sales and marketing opportunities due to the pandemic has led to cancellations of grape contracts in Canada and beyond. The grape glut in California and throughout the European Union has only gotten worse due to COVID-19.

Many wineries are cutting back production to manage inventory issues. So-called “crisis distillation” is being practiced in France and elsewhere to reduce the surplus of wine. There are a number of grapes on the vine that don’t have a buyer in place and are looking for a home.

Canadian growers and wineries also face added pressure after having lost a federal tax exemption that was challenged by Australia at the World Trade Organization. Australia successfully argued the excise exception for Canadian wine producers was a trade restriction to wines made down under. As a result, there’s an expected 50-cent per bottle price increase to Canadian wines as of June 30, 2022. That’s right around the time many of the best wines made this year will start appearing on shelves.

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