The best thing about living on a vineyard is having the close-up view of the changing seasons. It’s more than just the weather. The transformation of the vines from week to week draws you into a colorful and compelling story. From bud break to harvest, we watch each vintage unfold before our eyes, knowing that we won’t really taste the beauty of the season for another couple of years.
We recently picked the Sauvignon Blanc from a neighboring vineyard. White wine grapes ripen before the reds, so now we watch and wait for the Jungle Love Cabernet. Over the years, we have harvested the Cab grapes as early as September 25th (2015) and as late as October 21st (2012). As the perfect time approaches, we are doing several things. First, we walk up and down the aisles tasting grapes from different parts of the vineyard. If you come visit, you can try it! Chew up the grape, including the crunchy seeds, tasting every drop inside, then spit.
As the grapes become sweeter to our taste buds, we start to measure things more scientifically, with a pocket spectrometer that shows the brix level when you hold it up to the light, then a full “juice panel” will be performed in a lab. For the latter, we collect 200 grapes and deliver them to the lab for a “grape phenolics” report that shows levels of malic and tartaric acids, brix, glucose/fructose, potassium, pH and other components. Interestingly, although these measures let us know we’re on track to produce a high quality wine, the numbers will change as the wine goes through fermentation. This is one area where the art of winemaking comes in. You can’t just pick by the numbers, so our decision of when to harvest can become a lively debate among us, with the winemakers and the vineyard manager making their expert recommendations. Everyone has a lot at stake, and all opinions matter.
Meanwhile, we’re also monitoring changes in the weather that could compromise quality, and working with our vineyard manager to ensure a great crew of men and women is even available on the optimal night for picking. Our vineyard takes a good three hours to pick, and that’s because they’ve gone through in advance, dropping the less perfect fruit to the ground to concentrate flavor in the remaining clusters. We also have to make sure we can get on the crush pad early in the morning with our freshly picked grapes. Keeping everything cool is essential.
Many vineyards will be reaching their peak at the same time. The nights will be noisy, and the vineyards brightly lit for the workers. The roads will be crowded with truckloads of grapes en route to their wineries, and you’ll even see the occasional, disastrous, grape spill on Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail. We don’t breathe easy until the grapes are in the tank!
This is an intense time on the vineyard, full of collaboration and drama, science and guessing. One thing I know for sure is that when we step out the front door in the early morning and smell grape juice, it’s time.