By far, harvest is my favorite time of year in any wine country. The sweet smell of ripe grapes fill the air as they wait their turn on the vines to be picked. Night picking is the norm in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley as the cool late summer nights provide a natural refrigeration, delaying oxidation and spoilage before the grapes get into the winery for processing.
Driving around the vineyards between sundown and sunrise can be a surreal sight as the fields are ablaze with spotlights, providing the ideal backdrop for the night workers. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Vineyard & Winery). The deafening din of the tractors and heavy harvest machinery can be heard for miles as the grapes are quickly harvested. Within hours, the vines are stripped and the grapes are loaded into large plastic bins and hauled off to the winery’s crush pad.
Upon arrival, the grapes travel down a vibrating conveyor belt where they are hand-sorted. Undesirable grapes or under ripened grapes are removed by the sorters. In larger winery operations, the grapes may be laser optically sorted instead. Depending on the varietal and wine style, grapes may be placed in a de-stemmer machine which effectively removes the stems to avoid bitterness, or in some cases, the grapes are placed in separate bins, with the stems to add tannin, for whole cluster fermentation.