PREPARING FOR HARVEST BEGINS MONTHS IN ADVANCE
The moment we select to pick our grapes can affect the quality of the finished wines, so we pay close attention to detail to bring the full character of our terroirs.
Our experienced team of winemakers works closely with our vineyard team throughout the year, visiting the vineyards to assess the stages of growth and monitoring the weather and other events of the season that can affect the quality of the berries.
We also secure a trained seasonal harvest team well in advance. We hire a crew of about 20 from around the world to bring a range of cultures and levels of experience. “We have people coming from one year to the other, and we have newbies,” says Laura.
Since sparkling houses are typically the first to harvest in Napa Valley, it’s important to lock down this team early, Laura says, “Because, without people, we can't make wine.”
We also spend time making sure the equipment we use for harvest and pressing is in excellent condition.
“Most of the equipment we use during that time is not used outside of harvest, and it needs to be maintained throughout the year,” says Laura. “You don't want to discover that something doesn't work on the day it's needed.”
With everything in place, we’re ready for the perfect moment to begin harvest.
FINDING THE THE PERFECT TIME FOR HARVEST
The date beginning harvest typically falls within a range of only about a week, but choosing the right moment to pick is vital to crafting the perfect wines. “We might aim for the first week of August, but it might be the last few days of July or a few days after the beginning of August,” says Laura.
Choosing the right time to start harvest is both a science and an art, a combination of careful chemistry and a human aspect that includes grape tasting and a little of the intuition that comes with years of experience in our vineyards.
Finding the right moment to pick grapes for sparkling wines begins with monitoring sugar levels in the berries. For sparkling wines, you want higher acidity and lower sugar content compared to still wine berries, so this timing is key to our blends.
“We start monitoring the sugar level around mid-July,” explains Laura. “And then that will give us an idea, depending on the weather and what's happening at that time, when we can start harvesting.”
As we get closer to the potential harvest, we go from testing grape samples weekly to twice a week. Still, ultimately the decision is made by Winemaking Director Pauline Lhote, pulling from her past expertise with these vineyards.
Pauline goes into the vineyard with the team to observe and taste the grapes herself before making the call on when to begin harvesting to maintain the high quality we demand.
“Chemistry is a sample of the vineyard, not the whole picture. You need to taste and look at the grapes and consider multiple factors,” says Laura. “And that takes years to master, if not a lifetime.”
WHEN THE TIME TO HARVEST ARRIVES
In our next installment, we’ll explore the activities of harvest and why we pick our grapes at night in this crucial step for creating exceptional sparkling wines.