SEPTEMBER MEANS: NAPA VALLEY GRAPE HARVEST!
I live and work in the wine industry in Napa Valley. Harvesting grapes has started for most wineries here. It's a crazy, heady, exhausting and fun time in the valley. Some interesting parts:
- •Night picksYou want to pick the grapes at their coldest temperature. This inhibits any early fermentation and keeps the fruit fresh and intact for sorting and de-stemming. This means picking grapes at the coolest time of day—usually 2AM-6AM, under big lights. No languorous picks in the warm afternoon sun here.
- •Harvest smellIt permeates the entire valley. CO2 from fermenting grapes prickles your nostrils, a pungent smell of bread dough, deep earthiness and sweet fruit. It's a heady, dizzying aroma. (The co2 and less oxygen may have something to do with that too!! 😜)
- •Fruit 🍇The grapes are beautiful. They taste delicious. It's a special time—really the culmination of 9 months of vineyard work and farming to get to these finished clusters. The vineyard crew feels such pride in their work and efforts to get here.
- •"Color change" at the wineryGenerally white grapes ripen earlier and are picked first. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, etc. Then by mid-September, lighter reds like Pinot are mingling in. By October, wineries are full swing into the dark, later ripening red varietals—Cabernet, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel. The color progression from white to red is beautiful and feels so organic and natural.
- •The energyThis is THE time in the valley. It's when it all happens. There is a contagious, humming buzz. Coffee shop chat all centers around weather, if it's going to rain, how fruit is looking, sugar levels, pH of the fruit. Enormous grape trucks dominate the roads. Everyone is amped and excited. It takes over everything.
- •Food!I don't work on the farming side, but I benefit from the long hours our vineyard crew works because we always have great snacks and grill amazing food for lunch at the winery pretty much every day. It's a nice time for all of us to sit down together, take a breath and catch up on how the fruit looks, what they're picking next and how it's all going. I love feeling connected this way and am grateful I get to participate!
- •Harvest widowsThis is what you call people married to winemakers, vineyard workers or anyone on the production side. The hours are so long and busy that their significant others are basically "widowed" for two months+ per year. It's said jokingly but it's very true!
- •Influx of international internsPeople come from all over the world to work harvest in Napa Valley. I've worked with people from Italy, Romania, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, all over the US and a few I'm likely forgetting. You only learn winemaking by doing, but harvest only happens once per year. Some do harvest in the northern hemisphere and then head south to NZ or Australia to work it again in the Southern Hemisphere so they get 2 per year instead of just one
- •It's a special, beautiful, nutso, amazing time and it always makes me grateful to live and work where I do.