Harvest Preparation Gets Started

Harvest preparation is well underway in Sonoma County. We are on the verge of starting to pick Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, two of the earliest ripening varieties.

Most grapes are 100% through the veraison process, which for red grapes means they are completely colored. We have started sampling in the vineyard to see where the sugar levels are on the multitude of varieties we pick. As I mentioned, some Sauvignon Blanc grapes here in Sonoma County are sweet enough and have the right flavors to begin picking. A nearby Zinfandel vineyard’s grapes were recorded yesterday at 20.0 °Brix.

Brix is the scale of measurement that we use to describe the sugar content of grapes. In fact, it refers to the weight of the grape sugars (or soluble solids) per 100 g of liquid. The typical range of Brix values we see at harvest is from ~23.5 to 25.5 °Brix. Depending on the style of wine being made, this number can vary up or down. For reference, the typical Brix value for most supermarket table grapes is about 16 °Brix. So, wine grapes are harvested with much higher sugar content. Grapes harvested at 24 °Brix should yield a finished wine of 13.9% Alcohol.

On my side – red wines — Malbec may be the first variety ready to pick. The Malbec I get in Alexander Valley was the first to finish coloring up, so Harvest is right around the corner.

Merlot has finished coloring in most places, though our cooler-climate locations are still getting there. Finally, Cabernet will come in later from the coolest regions and will be the last picked. We’re starting Harvest later than usual, so we’re hoping that Mother Nature doesn’t send us too much rain before everything is ready to bring in.

In the winery, we are starting to see our temporary workers and interns arrive for the season. There is a lot of planning and training to do in order to get these folks up to speed to handle the crush. The winery is a flurry of activity, with the cellar crew preparing all the equipment to receive the grapes. Many of the grape processing machines only get used during Harvest, so it is time to unpack, reassemble and sanitize in preparation for the next vintage.

We have two traditional events to look forward to. First, our annual pre-Harvest party is coming up. We’ll all gather at a location away from the winery to celebrate before the onslaught begins. Then, once we receive the first grapes into the winery, we’ll toast to a successful and safe new Harvest.