Harvest Prep At Kendall-Jackson

My friend and colleague winemaker David Ready sent me an MMS yesterday with a picture of those grapes below, and the caption: “It’s on!” He is absolutely right.

That little purple grape symbolizes the beginning of Veraison, and that means, from here on out, we start the winery’s march toward the harvest of 2012. There’s a sort of transformation that’s going to happen over the winery over the next few weeks and months to make sure we’re ready for the berries to come off the vines.

Harvest is a really intense time in the winery cycle. Our labor numbers swell by at least 300%.  This happens every year, and luckily, we have a group of veterans that know how the winery works and can provide much needed leadership.  We also add a number of new employees to Kendall-Jackson.

A lot of preparation goes into hiring the labor needed to manage a winery though harvest because there are so many harvest related jobs that we have to staff.

The people we work with during harvest are a terrifically talented and diverse group. Many wineries need to staff a seasonal assistant winemaker or harvest enologist.  This position is nearly always taken by someone from the Southern Hemisphere who is looking to add to their wealth of experience by working a harvest in the United States.

In the vineyards, we hire samplers to take grape samples for maturity testing.  In the winery, we have crews dedicated to the crush pad, where they check in and sample the fruit from each truckload, or aid in receiving (crushing) the new grapes for fermentation.  We also have teams dedicated to racking juice after settling, making fermentation additions to the newly received musts, and doing pumpovers, punchdowns or rack and returns (déléstage) on red fermentations.

Another extremely important part of harvest preparation involves our dedicated maintenance crews.  All the winery equipment needs to be tested and serviced to ensure it is ready to handle the near constant use over the course of harvest.

Everything that we’ve mothballed since last harvest has to be reassembled, greased, tuned and sometimes repaired.  Sitting idle takes the hardest toll on the equipment. Then, we expect it to perform flawlessly day after day when it counts the most. No pressure, right?

For example:  The large nylon or rubber membranes for our presses have to be tested to withstand the high pressure we use to squeeze the juice out of white grapes, or fermented wine out of red ones.

Beyond labor and equipment, we are receiving batches of new barrels for the 2012 whites and reds. Chardonnay barrels have to be in place before harvest starts, as the juice goes to barrel immediately after picking and stays in the same vessel for fermentation and aging.  Early reds like Pinot Noir could be in barrel for malolactic fermentation and aging as soon as September 15th.

With all this going on, it might seem like we couldn’t possibly have time for fun.  Don’t worry; the winery is all about fun. I’ll make sure to post some pics from our upcoming pre-Harvest winemaking group event and our winery pre-Harvest Party.