Winemakers and growers define fruit ripeness differently, but everyone agrees that ripe grapes are essential for high quality wine.
Flavour and aromas develop in the vineyard, but scientists comprehend how terroir, vineyard management, and clones influence ripeness and contribute to the attractiveness and quality of the wine.
Historically, growers relied on sugar content to judge ripeness and start harvesting, but there are many other indicators of ripeness, each of which influences and contributes to ripeness.
Many experienced winemakers take sugar readings using a refractometer, but also evaluate the fruit organoleptically before making the decision to harvest.
Sugars and acids accumulate inside the berry, while flavours, aromas tannins occur on the skins, stems and seeds and evolve in different times.
Berries taste “green” until seeds reach maturity.
Physical and chemical changes (veraison) occur, once the seeds lose their overwhelming bitter flavours.
As sugar levels rise, acidity starts decreasing, but different flavour dimensions are required for different styles i.e for sparkling wine, higher acid levels are necessary. This is the reason of success of English sparkling wines, champagnes, and of late sparkling wines from Nova Scotia.
Most of the fruit flavours evolve during and after the fermentation. Ultra ripe grapes that are starting to decay or have decayed, have different, often undesirable, flavour profiles (i.e jaminess, raisin flavours).
High alcohol levels (14 – 17 per cent ABV) in dry wines influence flavour and balance which experts perceive as “defects” or attribute to unpleasant textures and hot finishes. Hot region winemakers in Australia, the USA, and Sicily monitor the evolution of fruit closely and like to harvest at the right level of acid and sugar, preferably early in the morning, and press immediately to ensure flavour preservation
In winemaking, perception and philosophy are essential to achieve the end result.
While some people think super ripe grapes yield extraordinary wine, others think of them as out-of-balance.
Flawless wine is in the mind of the winemaker and appreciation it the mind of consumer.