The most exciting and rewarding time of the year in the Napa Valley wine country, and for that matter all of wine country, is harvest time, “the crush” as it is called. This is what every winemaker, vineyard manager, and winery owner awaits throughout the vineyard year. Everything at a winery is at a fever pitch and excitement fills the air. If you want to be part of this wonderful experience, plan for your “Harvest” wine country getaway now. This is the peak season for visitors in the Napa Valley, so book your reservations early.
Harvest begins in late August. We have not heard of any grapes being picked as yet, but very soon the sparkling wine grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will be ready for harvest. Mumm Napa is always one of the first to harvest and celebrate. In September, the harvest picks up pace and will most likely extend into late October. This year has seen another very mild summer, and unless there are several warm days ahead this should be a later than average harvest year.
You might see the winemaker and vineyard manager out in the vineyards measuring sugar levels and even chewing on grapes. The old veterans of winemaking think they can judge a vine’s readiness by chewing on a few grapes and crunching down on the seeds. Others rely on a hand tool called a refractometer to get an exact measurement of sugar levels (Brix). When sugar levels are at desired levels, the call goes out to the field workers.
Field workers come and do their job like no other. We tried picking grapes once at a winery and never again. It was very fun for about ten minutes, and we toiled away for maybe a half hour before calling it quits. The skilled harvesters move through the vineyard like professional athletes. They swiftly and artfully cut each hanging vine into their bins. If you spot a set of cars near a vineyard, you can bet that harvest is taking place. Don’t pass this up. Walk into the vineyard, spot the foreman and ask if you can take photos or just observe. It is one of the highlights of the wine making process. You will have to get up early to spot this. Most of the harvesting is completed before the heat of the day.
Once the grapes are harvested, the grape bins are taken to the winery’s crushpad. When you visit a winery, ask if you can take a look at the crushpad activities. A crushpad is usually outside and consists of a grape sorting table and equipment for de-steming and crushing the grapes. Once the grapes are crushed, the wine is pumped over to the fermenting tanks. There are all sorts of fermenting tanks, ranging from small white bins to large stainless tanks. Maybe you can even take a turn at punching down the “cap.” This is the solid surface of skins that rises to the top of the tank.
For sure you need to bring a camera to record and remember this spectacular time of year in wine country. Hoist a glass of wine and toast the wonderful bounty that nature has provided for us.