Here are some of the things one can “sense” during this exciting culmination of the vintner’s growing season.
Grapes of beautiful indigo blue for red wines and green with a golden hue for white wines abound on the vines awaiting that perfect moment when all of their components are in balance. Upon closer inspection of berries, one can see the natural “bloom” on the grapes. (Just wipe the skin and you’ll notice it.) This is made up of natural yeast cells just waiting to perform their mission of fermentation. As the decades pass, the true winemaking varieties of yeast populate California vineyards in an indigenous fashion and ultimately they will prevent colonization of the undesirable strains. More and more vintners are allowing the natural fermentation by the vineyard’s strains while others are replicating those strains in the lab for a pure strain with no surprises. Either way the vineyard’s “Terroir” is dramatically enhanced.
Of course, one will run across those occasional grape spills on tight curves of two lane roads. On the rush to the fermenter, it’s expected, unavoidable and, of course, forgiven.
Leaves: As grapes ripen, the vine becomes stressed and grapes start to “borrow” water from those leaves which weakens their immunities and they contract a common virus called Red Leaf Mosaic, turning them crimson or mottled golden and red. This is called flaming in the vineyards. As the days grow colder, all of the leaves will contract the virus which does no harm to the vines (just the leaves) and adds a beautiful array of color to the eyes of the beholder. If the leaves are yellow, it means that no virus is present and the palisade layers in the leaves have collapsed eliminating green chlorophyl. Brown is simple desiccation of the leaves.
Water: One will see lots of water either dripping out of emitters or in overhead spraying. Once grapes have been harvested, the vine’s energy is funneled to and stored in the roots for bud push in the following spring. Vineyards are aggressively watered so that leaves, still photosynthesizing energy, will remain on the vine as long as nature will allow.
Sparkle: A common practice of bird hazing is attaching strips of mylar to the vines and let them flutter in the breeze. So, NO! Those are not Sparkling Wine Vineyards.
Aroma: In October, wineries are focused on fermenting their red wines, as Cabernet and Zinfandel ripen later. The nights are colder then and this combination produces a most heady, sensual experience of which no one ever tires; not even the guys with big paddles punching the skins down into the must – the juice that must become wine. Skins, removed from the fermenter are pressed almost dry (with the hard pressings going to the distiller) and either placed in bins for removal by environmentally sensitive waste companies or simply spread in the vineyards as fertilizer. The colder night air is compressed closer to the ground trapping these heady aromas. It’s heavenly and you’ll find yourself almost unable to exhale.
Pickers: White 2 1/2 ton plastic bins are stacked up at wineries, on trucks and just about everywhere. These are used for hand picking operations and sometimes the pickers get a bonus for super clean loads.
There are occasional picking machines which tower over the vine rows. Mechanical arms grab 4 to 8 vines and vibrate the berries right off the stems – a process borrowed from nut tree pickers. This technique produces a lot of M.O.G. or Materials Other than Grapes. This would include wire, bark, leaves, canes, nails, insects and an occasional lizard. Of course, these machines don’t do well on hillsides.
Here is one of the most romantic aspects of the Harvest. The picking knife which looks similar to a linoleum cutter, was given to us by the Romans and it is still used today – right now in Vintage 2017.
Ad vinum fluat! Bon vinum laetificat cor hominus
To that, as a good Altar boy, I say Amen