OK. It’s official. We’re really in the groove now with this week’s start of the Chardonnay harvest. Urged on by a recent spate of warm days, which were complemented by nighttime temperatures that dropped into the 50s and low 60s, the ripening process thus far has been balanced and in check. Although this year’s Chardonnay harvest is earlier than what is considered average, it is on par with last year’s timing. Depending on a winemaker’s stylistic preferences (and there are many different styles of Napa Valley Chardonnay), this grape variety will be coming in for the next three to four weeks.
Ivo Jeramez, vice president of vineyards and production for Grgich Hills Estate, has been tending to the winery’s estate vineyards for more than 30 years. Ivo looks for Chardonnay flavors that are a bit beyond apple toward pear, with juice that has a certain nectar-like texture. Grgich celebrated its 39th annual Blessing of the Grapes on Friday, August 21. It is a tradition widely practiced in the Napa Valley that has its roots in the Old Testament. Ivo describes their event as the chance to gather the harvest crew and winery friends to toast the coming vintage. A time to celebrate the hard work and care it takes to bring the literal fruits of their labor to the crushpad.
After grapes for sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc and other wine grapes, often referred to as aromatic whites, are typically the next Napa Valley grapes to be brought from the vineyard to the crush pad. These grapes tend to mature earlier than most other grapes. Their sought-after and refreshing citrus, tropical and other fruit flavors are articulated at an acid/sugar ratio that requires less heat and time on the vine.
Picking of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, along with a sprinkling of other aromatic white wine grapes such as Albariño, Aligoté, Semillion and Viognier, began as a trickle late last week and is now picking up momentum. Toby Halkovich, director of vineyard operations for Cakebread Cellars, received his first Sauvignon Blanc grapes on August 4. And on the evening of August 3? Toby and his family had their traditional “last supper” heralding the long and erratic hours of this crazy wild time called harvest.
The first grapes were picked at dawn on Wednesday, July 22, heralding an early start for this year’s harvest season. The grapes are destined to become Napa Valley sparkling wine and are usually the first to be picked. The reason? To ensure the bright acidity that winemakers are looking for in this style of wine.
What made the day special for Ludovic Dervin, winemaker for Mumm Napa Valley? “On the first day of harvest we saber a bottle of sparkling wine and sprinkle it on the grapes in the first press load. It celebrates the end of a cycle in the vineyard, and honors the rite of passage between the grape growers and the winemakers, taking custody of our precious Napa Valley grapes.”
Aromatic white wine grapes, like Sauvignon Blanc, are expected to be picked in early August – follow #NapaHarvest and be among the first to know!