It’s summer time and all the fruit trees are starting to ripe. For me ripeness and the degree of ripeness is where the fruits real achievement is prepared and it is a big key to how great a fruit can be.
Over here in Florida we have a lot of Mango, Avocado and Citrus trees. We love our ripe fruits. Because of the tropical climate and grapevine diseases, particularly Pierce's disease, vitis vinifera (grape vine we know today as the wine grape) does not grow well in Florida. In fact as early as 1990 the Florida Orange Groves Winery began to cultivate wines made from 100% tropical fruit. And because of that the term Florida Wine now comprises varieties like mango, key lime, orange, grapefruit, blueberry and strawberry and several other wineries located in Florida now experimenting with tropical fruits with success. Even though there are no designated American Viticultural Areas in Florida; the state is one of the most important wine states in the country. It is home to several major wine wholesalers and distributors. Naples, Sarasota and Tampa are among the most influential in the wine business due to it’s proclivities to cuisine, great wine lists at restaurants and news worthy and improbable wine events for charities including festivals for foodies.
Anyways, ripening is when the small grapes begin to grow larger and all the flavor compounds, sugars, and water start to form inside the grape. When the fruit begins to set the grapes go through a change called veraison which is when the color of the grape changes and it begins to soften as the water and sugar is flowing from the leaves. As we learned in grade school as sunlight hits a plant photosynthesis creates sugar in the plant and it starts to send the sugar to the grape which makes the high acidity in the grapes fall off.
Hence, ripening is crucial to viticulture. It’s very important. The reason is because it directly impacts 3 major characteristics of the finished wine.
The acidity in grapes transmogrifies into acidity in a finished wine which can be sensed on the palate and tasted. The less ripe a grape the higher the acidity, the ensuing wine will have; simultaneously, sugars in a grape will eventually be converted into alcohol during fermentation. The more sugar found in the grape the more potential alcohol can be produced in a finished wine. Also, sugar and other compounds dissolved in the juice of a grape also give to the concentration, viscosity and thickness of the juice. Riper grapes have heavier juice and will produce a thicker or heavier wine. You know how sometimes you hear the expression ‘that wine has legs’ after a good swirl coats the glass and tears stream down; higher alcohol and the thickness of the juice creates that effect.
The more a fruit hangs on the vine the riper it gets but remember the length of ripening is mostly governed by climate conditions. Cooler climates intensely shorten ripening periods. A grape vine ripening in a cooler climate will have a lot more acidity and lower alcohol content and a lot less body than the same vine planted in a warmer climate. So understanding ripeness is pretty vital across the board.