Autumn in the California Wine Country
Depending on weather, grape type, wine style and region, harvest can begin as early as mid-August. Typically, it is the grapes destined for the sparkling wine cellars that come in first. These grapes do not need to have much sugar but depend heavily on their acid content and therefore are picked just under-ripe. Most other grapes in the California Wine Country are picked throughout September and into October. At the beginning of harvest time, winemakers will regularly walk the vines, randomly checking grapes for ripeness. Deciding when to pick can be one of the most nerve-racking decisions of the year.


Once picking begins it is done swiftly and carefully, all by hand. It is possible to pick grapes by machine but the highly prized grapes of the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country are almost exclusively picked by hand. Picking is done at night or in the early morning when temperatures are lower and the fruit is more resilient and less likely to bruise. Most vines are trained onto a trellis structure, which, among other things, brings them up to a convenient height for picking. Harvest time, or “Crush” can be one of the most interesting times to visit the California wine country. All the Sonoma and Napa wineries are a-buzz with activity and winery tours will include an intimate look at winemaking in-progress.

 


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