After half a year of preparations, Napa Valley vintners are reveling in the start of their grape harvest season. By this point, it’s been a long, arduous road to growing the best possible grapes that this growing season’s weather would allow for, and now farmers are biding their time, waiting for the perfect sweetness levels to pluck those grapes from the vine once and for all. If you have never experienced Napa Valley during the grape harvest, it’s quite a treat, and one of the ideal times to visit and learn about the entire production process. Churchill Manor is the perfect place to call home base while you experience harvest season!
While Napa Valley wines only account for 4 percent of the wine produced in California, they bring in over half of that state’s wine revenues. This means that Napa is definitely the place to learn about wine, as they’ve had a reputation for producing only the best for many generations.
The typical Northern Hemisphere grape harvest season begins in August and runs through October. In Napa Valley, however, with such diverse terroir ranging from sea level vineyards to those sitting at 2,600 feet in the region’s mountains, the season can extend a little farther on each end. The first varieties to be picked during the grape harvest are the whites used for sparkling wines and champagnes, which can be picked as early as late July. White wine varieties follow through September, with most red varieties being picked through October. Some of the dessert wine varieties can be picked as late as November. With such a long grape harvest season, visitors have plenty of leeway to catch the production in action.
The process of growing grapes is a long one beginning with winter pruning after the previous year’s grape harvest is complete. Pruning is done strategically to help the vines grow the precise way a farmer wants them to for the optimal flavor profiles. The tender buds will begin to break from the dormant vine over a few months, after which they will flower. Each flower has the potential to turn into a single grape, making this an incredibly delicate part of the process. Growers are constantly trying to protect their flowers to ensure they are getting the yield and quality of grape they want, like thinning the crop of the less than ideal grapes.
The Brix – or sugar levels – are tested to see how mature the grapes are. A variety of compounds are measured, giving growers an idea for the flavors, colors, and textures the grapes will produce. Finally, the grapes are crushed and ready to undergo the fermentation and aging process.
After a long year of calculated hard work, the grape harvest is a reason to celebrate and reflect for vintners throughout the Napa Valley. The annual Grape Stomp is one such way to enjoy the fruits of their labor and typically takes place towards the beginning of the grape harvest season. While wineries use efficient, high-tech methods for pressing their grapes now, the stomp is a way to pay homage to the heritage of winemaking, while eating delicious food!
For ideas of other things to do while in Napa Valley, check out our free vacation guide!