"Have you picked yet?" asked my friend John Rodrigues when he called me yesterday. His hobby vineyard is about a mile west of mine in the cool-climate region (and possible future AVA) known as the Petaluma Gap. Even though we both grow the "early ripening" varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, we know that by the time we harvest, so has just about everyone else on the North Coast of California. I picked over a week ago and John harvested his grapes during the past week. Thanks to mild, warm weather the last few weeks, we both achieved good sugar levels (not always the case where it's cool). Yield was down substantially from the last two years of bumper crops, but we are looking forward to fully ripe flavors in our finished wines.
A view of my vineyard on harvest day before the nets came off.
The signs are all around us that harvest is winding down in our piece of wine country. We see it throughout the natural environment, among the commercial winegrowers, and very clearly in our own community of home winemakers. All throughout the region, seasonal pumpkin patches and corn mazes are opening for business. Every year, it seems the last of the grapes overlap with the pumpkin harvest for a week or two. Even though the days remain warm, we have begun having the chilly nights and foggy mornings for which we are famous. (You know, the back label on the Sonoma County wine bottle that says, "warm sunny days and cool foggy nights." That's us, alright.) As I walk around my back yard or across the parking lot at work, fall leaves crunch underfoot. The change of seasons is in full swing.
Driving along the country lanes that wind through the vineyards or on one of the two freeways in Sonoma County, the signs of harvest wrapping up are equally clear. The bird nets that went on many vineyards a couple of months ago are now gone. In red grape vineyards, the fruit that before was visible from the road is now absent (it's harder to see white grapes from a distance). The vine leaves themselves are turning golden, orange, and brown just like the trees. Secondary signs show up, too. The clusters of cars and pickup trucks parked at the edge of a vineyard before dawn by the picking crews are no longer seen. The flatbed semi trucks running up and down the highway stacked with grape bins are thinning out and going back to whatever hauling they do when there aren't grapes to be gathered up and taken to wineries. I particularly notice the disappearance of the small-scale makeshift transporters. Those are people with small flatbed trucks or utility trailers carrying anywhere from one to a dozen half-ton macro bins full of just-picked grapes. A few weeks ago it seemed that any vehicle that could haul grapes did haul grapes — not so much anymore. Even the air smells different as the pervasive aromas of fruit, fermentation, and (occasionally) vinegar fade away....