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2023 Harvest has officially kicked off on our Home Ranch and we celebrated with the time honored tradition of the blessing of the grapes! Winemaker, Vineyard, Hospitality, and Customer Service teams gathered around to share in the most exciting time of the year! Our Winemakers discuss vintage predictions and harvest preparations below.
How do you ensure the best grapes are selected?
As a winemaker, I feel observing the vineyard and making precise pick decisions is one of the most crucial aspects of my job. To ensure optimal grape selection, our vineyard teams remove any clusters that are unbalanced and behind in ripeness (a process called thinning). In the winery, we test grape chemistry from all vineyard blocks, monitoring sugar and acid levels and how the fruit is ripening. When grapes are close to readiness, I am in the vineyard tasting for flavor, looking at how soft the berry skins are and how crunchy the seeds are. When I feel that the grapes are ready to harvest, I plan and schedule the pick dates and bring the fruit in for processing. •
How does the team prepare for harvest?
Our winemaking team has been busy preparing for harvest for months. In the lab, we calibrate all of the equipment, and in the winery, we diligently clean and sanitize the tanks, hoses, and equipment. We bring on harvest interns (a temporary set of international and domestic workers) who have been training with our production team since August to learn our specific protocols and safety procedures. Harvest is always a busy time of year, so the more prepared we are in advance, the better we can handle any curveballs the vintage throws at us.
Could you share the vineyard order of picking and why?
The order in which we pick our vineyards can change based on the vintage and the weather. Typically, the vineyards in the northern part of Napa Valley come in earlier than the ones down south. So, our home ranch in St. Helena and the Backus vineyard in Oakville are usually the first vineyards to pick. The last picks usually occur in Suscol, our southernmost vineyard south of Coombsville. Suscol is closer to San Pablo Bay, creating a cooler micro-climate, slowing the grape ripening process compared to warmer areas farther north.
What is a typical day of a winemaker during harvest?
A typical day (if there ever was such a thing:) starts early in the morning, assessing the fruit picked the prior evening (we harvest all our grapes at night to preserve freshness and acidity) and ensuring it is separated and organized. After that the grapes are carefully processed on our sorting line and go to their designated tanks. While fruit is processing, I monitor all the other fermentations with my team by looking at tank temperatures, pump-over schedules, and how brix (sugar) and chemistry are trending. This practice allows us to determine what tanks need nutrient adds and how to best maintain the health of fermentations. Once everything is operating smoothly, I will again walk the vineyards, assess vine health, sample, and decide which blocks we will harvest next. After my vineyard visits, I return to the winery to taste and smell the fermenting tanks to determine which are ready to be drained, pressed and put into barrels for elevage (aging). Once the day is wrapping up in the cellar, winemaking and viticulture teams meet to discuss the following day’s picks and fruit processing and to formulate a production plan.
What are you the most and least excited about harvest?
I love the thrill and excitement of harvest. Every year brings new and different challenges. All year we do our best to plan and prepare in the vineyard and winery for a few months of getting the harvest right. I like waking up early and driving through the valley in the dark and seeing all the harvesting happening. There is always a certain buzz and energy around harvest time. I also really enjoy tasting young wine in tank and predicting how it will evolve over the next two years in barrel before it gets bottled. The hardest part is waiting patiently for the grapes to ripen to their full potential and picking them at just the right time.
What are your predictions for the 2023 vintage?
2023 is shaping up to be a high-quality vintage throughout Napa Valley. With a wet winter, soils were charged with water early in growing, and canopies looked full and healthy. The crop seems balanced and has slightly above-average yields. 2023 is one of the latest harvests on record, with veraison moving slowly and still not complete in reds on most ranches as we move into mid-September. With no real heat spikes yet in the season (the first time in years there was no Labor Day weekend heat wave), the fruit maintains acidity and freshness. I expect ideal color development in the reds and beautiful concentration. Red grapes won’t get harvested until October, and the whites are just starting. To summarize: late season compared to recent years, good crop load, and potential for excellent quality wines!