My favorite season in wine country is set to begin on Monday: Harvest.
It’s exciting watching the grapes get picked, show up at a winery or even see them being trucked up and down the valley. Because every vintage is unique, this time of year never gets tiring. However, many visitors don’t ever get to see these things happen. Most grapes are picked very early in the morning or even overnight. This is done to ensure the grapes stay cool and don’t start fermenting on their own. Often times the vineyard workers are done with picking by the time tourists wake up. And at most of the wineries there is limited space and sometimes the crush pad is off-limits to guests.
In addition, you really need to be in the right place at the right time. Not all grapes are picked at the same time. In fact, as harvest starts on Monday there are many other vineyards that are just seeing veraison this week – which means those vineyards are somewhere between 5 and 7 weeks from being picked.
Monday’s harvest is starting at J Vineyards and Winery with the grapes that will ultimately be in their sparkling wine production. Grapes used for these types of wines are picked much earlier than grapes used in still wine. This is done for many reasons. The grapes are lower in sugar leading to lower alcohol levels. But most importantly, grapes that are picked earlier have much higher acidity levels and in making bubbly wines it is the key to retaining the bright character that comes with higher acid levels.
In ‘normal’ years (although there really isn’t a normal when talking about growing grapes), the sparkling wine harvest usually begins early August. So it’s about 2 weeks behind. Most other vineyards are also ripening at about two to four weeks later than normal due to the cooler than average Spring and Summer we’ve experienced here. But we’ve had a nice run of warm days over the past three weeks to help the growing process along.
My hope is to get out there and take some pictures of the harvest to share here, but I’m not sure I’ll be up that early.