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The first-year barrels

The grapes

Cutting the grapes

Down the rows

FYBs on the ground

Bin of grapes

Horton West-South

Mondavi entrance

Windmill

Weighing the grapes

Robert Mondavi vineyard

The big tanks

Sorting table

Grapes on the table

Up the conveyor belt

The stems

Tops of the tanks

Into the tanks

Second year barrels

Barrel with red

Alpha Omega naturally red

FYBs and fermentation tanks

Grinding the grapes

White grapes presser

Punching grapes down

Fermenting grapes

Grapes rising

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
These grapes, in the private Horton family-owned To Kalon vineyard, adjacent to the Robert Mondavi Winery, will be blended into the $150-a-bottle Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Some of the vines are as much as 45 years old. The family has sold nearly all its grapes to Mondavi since 1953.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
A look down one of the rows of the Horton-owned area of the To Kalon vineyards.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
In Napa Valley, these yellow bins, which vineyard workers throw their grapes into, are called, among other things, FYBs, or "f*****g yellow bins."
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
An FYB full of grapes that will be used to make the 2010 vintage Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Stacks of FYBs full of grapes from the Horton family-owned vineyard are shrink-wrapped and readied for being trucked to the adjacent Robert Mondavi Winery, where they will be processed.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
The famous and iconic entrance to the Robert Mondavi Winery, in Oakville, Calif.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Windmills like this one are used to help keep grapes in the vineyards from freezing. When the temperature hits 32 degrees, the windmills activate automatically, blowing air on the vines, and hopefully keeping the grapes above freezing.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
After being harvested, the FYBs full of grapes are stacked and put on the back of flatbed trucks like this one, and are then taken to a nearby weighing station. The Horton family is paid for its grapes by the ton.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
A look out at the beautiful vineyard at the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Grapes meant for the high-end Robert Mondavi Reserve labels end up in these giant fermentation tanks, where they are kept for about 45 days. They then are moved on to barrels in the first-year barrel room.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
The grapes are dumped onto a conveyor belt, which brings them to workers at this sorting table. The workers move as quickly as they can, getting rid of grapes that are malformed, too small, or which are otherwise unsuitable. They also remove much of the leftover plant matter.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Bunches of grapes slide down the belt toward the sorting table.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
After going through the sorting table, these grapes are sent up a conveyor belt, where they are then dropped into a de-stemming machine.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
A box full of stems.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
These custom-made tanks can hold between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of grapes, and will hold them for about 45 days of fermentation. The tanks were brought to the winery in 2000, and if they are properly maintained, they can last indefinitely.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
After going through the sorting table and de-stemming, the grapes are shed of any that are too small, and are then fed into the fermentation tanks.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
After a year in the first set of barrels, the wine is then tested by the winemakers, who will make blending decisions to determine which wine goes into these second-year barrels. The wine will sit in these barrels for a second full year.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Because a fair amount of red wine tends to spill from the barrels' mouths over the course of a year, the Mondavi winery orders special barrels that are painted with red wine so that they continue to look clean and new, even after being spilled on many times.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
This is a barrel from the Alpha Omega winery, in Napa Valley's town of Rutherford, Calif. Like at the Mondavi winery, wine tends to spill onto the barrels. But because these are not painted, the wine creates a gradual stain on the oak.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Stacks of grape-filled FYBs sit in front of the Alpha Omega winery's steel fermentation tanks.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
At the end of the sorting table at the Alpha Omega winery, the grapes go through this machine, which crushes them on their way toward the fermentation tanks.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
This giant machine, the Sutter EPC-50, at the Alpha Omega winery, is designed to press white grapes.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
At the Alpha Omega winery, winemaker and general manager Jean Hoefliger demonstrates the process of "punching" down red wine grapes. Because carbon dioxide pushes the skins of the grapes toward the top of the barrels, it is required that as many as four or five times a day, workers must use a special tool to push them back down again.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
A look inside one of the fermentation barrels at the Alpha Omega winery.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Hoefliger demonstrates how the carbon dioxide from the crushed grapes pushes the skins up and over the tops of the barrels, where they are fermenting.
Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
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