NAPA VALLEY, Calif.--Up here in wine country, as the days get shorter, it can only mean one thing: harvest. Sure enough, all across this beautiful, rich, and lush vineyard-covered region, wineries big and small are bringing in the grapes, and getting ready to bottle their 2010 vintages.
That's why CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman headed up to this sun-soaked area about an hour north of San Francisco--to see how harvest works at both a high-end major label (Robert Mondavi Winery), and a well-regarded boutique winery (Alpha Omega). And while their practices are quite similar, there are also some significant differences.
This is the first-year barrels room at the Robert Mondavi Winery's To Kalon Cellar, where thousands of cases' worth of $150-a-bottle Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve come after sitting for about 45 days in fermentation tanks. The wine will stay in these barrels for a year, after which the winemakers will taste each barrel and then make blending decisions that will determine which wine goes into the second-year barrels.
Each barrel in the first-year room is made from brand-new French oak and costs $1,600.
Harvest workers--hired by a vineyard management company--work quickly and efficiently, cutting the bunches of grapes with a single motion, and dumping them in yellow bins that are designed to keep the grapes from being crushed.
Crews worked most of the night during the two-day harvest of the Horton vineyard, sometimes working under floodlights, and other times under the lights of tractor headlights. Only the crew that began work at about 7 in the morning worked with natural light. The goal was to get all the grapes in before the day got hot, to ensure that the grapes themselves are brought in cool.