2018 vintage lingo: Water Berry

Water berry shown in gloved hand -
healthy clusters of Pinot Gris in background of photo.
As we approach harvest here in the Willamette valley all the talk has been about water berry...or pink berry. As far as I can tell it's the same thing. It's an affliction affecting wine grape clusters that causes them to stop developing sugar, acid, and flavor. This can be a major problem in the winery as sugar, acid, and flavors are measured pre-harvest with field berry or whole cluster samplings. If you have an area of the vineyard that has more of a concentration and that doesn't come through with your composite samplings you can get a surprise when you get all the grapes in and start testing the juice. This can also often be too late to make some major decisions about what type of wine you're making. For example, a Rose of Pinot Noir or a red Pinot Noir.

Water berry shown center surrounded by healthy clusters of
Pinot Noir (828 clone)
I've been reading up online and speaking with our agricultural product suppliers and the university's in the area and it seems that there are a few things that water berry isn't caused...that is it's not caused by a virus for instance. This is leading people to think about overcropping in the vineyard and/or warmer seasons over an extended period of years like we've had here since 2012. There's also a thought process that there could be two different types of water berry causation with the same effect.

What is that effect? Well, it takes working with a few plants to see it but the berries can be a pinkish color, but not always. Characteristics include a very hard (like a brick) cluster, with discoloration on the sunny side. The discoloration can also be in different parts of the cluster. The bunch stem can be green while others nearby are brown and lignified. The shoot that the clusters grow from can be green and behind nearby shoots (we've noticed some patterns with that here, credit to Jose Castro-Sanchez). The telltale sign of it is when the sugars are testing at around 10-12 brix and the rest of the plants clusters are 19-22 brix. Also the acids are through the roof. When tasted or tested with a refractometer (measures sugar percentage in small juice samples) you can be sure it's water berry. Visually it's more difficult to tell but you can tell with some time working with it in the vineyard. I've included some photos of affected clusters from here.

Several Gamay clusters of water berry shown in foreground
 with healthy clusters in the background
I'm told that some vineyards in the South Willamette Valley have seen upwards of 25% this year. We are seeing about 5% in our Pinot Gris and 777 clone of Pinot Noir and abou5 10% in our 115 and 828 clones of Pinot Noir and Gamay. The Riesling we haven't quite gotten around to yet but it will be harder to tell. In the grand scheme of the 2018 vintage 5-10% is not very alarming but if we were to get to 25% that would be a problem. There's plenty of clusters to go around this year but none of us like dropping them on the ground. More concerning is that we can't seem to figure out why this is happening. I've noticed, at least on my vineyard, that Gamay and the 828 clone (AS1) of Pinot Noir seem to have a little more of it than the Pinot Gris (Woodhall clone and clone 10) and Pinot Noir clone 777.


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