Sensory Attributes and the Evaluation of Grape berries, as explained by Vallonné Vineyards’ winemaker

Sensory Berries

Sanket Gawand, winemaker at Vallonné Vineyards, Nashik, shares his thoughts on the importance of the sensory evaluation of grape berries before harvest with Brinda Gill

The sensory evaluation of berries involves checking the berries for their visual, haptic (touch), aromatic and taste qualities. Sanket inspects the colour and size of the berries; sees if any berries are shrivelling; and checks the state of their stems, skin, pulp and seeds for assessing their ripeness and maturity. Berries are randomly plucked, tasted and chewed to check their flavours as well as the balance of sugar and acid. The skin of red grapes is rubbed to see the intensity of its colour; an intense colour indicates more phenolics which are organic compounds that go on to manifest in the colour and flavour of wine. The seeds are inspected; green seeds indicate unripe fruit, brown seeds indicate ripe fruit and, the greater the crunchiness on chewing, the greater the maturity of the fruit.

Apart from indicating maturity (for harvesting), the sensory evaluation of berries helps in taking decisions related to the intensity of grape pressing for white wines, the duration of extended maceration for red wines and the style of wine the winemaker seeks to create.

“The harvesting time is earlier when we pick Cabernet Sauvignon to make rosé wine. This is to retain acidity and freshness. So we look for fruit with slightly high acidity and end up having pyrazines, a type of aroma compound, in our rosé. On the other hand, to make Cabernet Sauvignon red wine the grapes are harvested much later for good phenolic maturity and reduced level of pyrazines. For our regular Chenin Blanc we look for good ripe fruit with balanced sugar and acidity, whereas for our dessert wine, made from Chenin Blanc grapes, we aim for high acidity with excess fruit flavours”.

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The sensory attributes of berries are also a reflection of the terroir. Every vineyard is different because of factors such as variation in topsoil, subsoil, soil structure, training and trellising of vines, the slope of the land, direction the vineyards face and microclimate.

“At our vineyards, we have two different plots of Cabernet Sauvignon. They are adjacent to each other yet show differences in the sensory attributes of their berries. So they are harvested at different times. In 2019, when we did our Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Anniversary Edition to celebrate 10 years, we marked some vines which showed the best possible maturity depending on sensory evaluation and made 374 bottles.

Laboratory analysis gives us an understanding of theoretical maturity whereas sensory evaluation gives a feel of potential wine. For me laboratory analysis — though important — is supportive, and sensory evaluation is more important to take decisions of harvesting”.  — Brinda Gill