Hens and Chicks in the Vineyard

Complexity on the vine creates complexity in the wine. Variation in berry size at Soberanes Vineyard during the 2015 growing season.

“Hens and chicks” is a phrase you might not think relates to grape growing, but it’s one you may hear at a wine-tasting. We frequently come across grape clusters whose berries range dramatically in size and use this language drawn from the animal world to describe them.

The grape flower is very sensitive to weather and nutrient variations, so its pollination and fertilization is a delicate affair. Challenges during this springtime event can lead to a lack of uniformity in fertilization and uneven development of the berries.

This lack of standardization in the fruit can pose troublesome for some varieties of wine. But others—pinot noir and chardonnay among them—thrive with the diversity. The smaller berries have a very high ratio of grape skin per unit of juice, which gives more flavor to the juice and resulting wine.