Winter season is a quiet time of the year as far as the wineries are concerned, but it is very busy in the wine country. The vines go into a dormant state in the late fall right after the harvest. The ground is cold and the flow of sap within the vine slows way down. While the vines are quiet, there is an important task that needs to take place in the vineyards. The vines need to be pruned to ready them for 'bud break' (the beginning of the vine's new growth cycle in March). So, in January, February and early March, we see the barren vines with their scraggly canes (branches) being pruned back to the bare trunk of the vine and it's two horizontal branches. HOWEVER, a real winter treat is viewing the wild yellow mustard flowers growing in between the rows of barren vines.
spring "bud break" in the wine country
Spring is an exciting time in the Wine Country. Bud break occurs mid to late March or as deemed by Mother Nature. Once the new buds 'break wood', the newly grown shoots (canes) can grow in length at a rate of an inch to an inch and a half a day. And, the little pods that will become the grape clusters are evident almost immediately. We start to hear whispers like "Did you hear? Bud break has been spotted in the Carneros." This is exciting because things are beginning anew. By the time May arrives, small juvenile clusters of grapes are visible. May is one of my favorite months in the Wine Country. Especially toward the end of May, the weather is summer-like without it being too hot and there is abundant greenery on the vines.
Summer is a transitional time in the vineyards. Vineyard workers are busy performing the periodic pruning that is necessary to control the crop yield, canopy management (how much growth is desired on the vines to limit / allow the proper amount of sunlight to ripen the grapes), and finally 'dropping fruit' in an abundant vintage year to make sure the grapes harvested are the very finest possible. You'll see the wine making equipment being cleaned and made ready in anticipation of harvest. It's quite warm in Napa and Sonoma but it generally cools down at night for comfortable slepping. Our climate is such that we have dry heat so it is typically very pleasant. If you like to swim / golf / play outdoors; this is your time to visit the Wine Country.
Fall & the Harvest The most common question asked is regarding the timing of the harvest or 'the crush' as we sometimes term it. Wine country harvest 'straddles' summer and fall. Typically, the harvest begins about the middle of August with the picking of the Chardonnay and other white wine grapes as well as the Pinot Noir. The other red grape varieties (Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and so on ...) are followed by the Cabernet Sauvignon (a thick skinned grape) picked last. All of the grapes are usually off of the vines by mid-October. Keep in mind that these time frames are generally true but it's all dependant on the weather. The information just shared is the answer most are looking for when they ask "When is the harvest?" but the real answer is "When Mother Nature say so!"
If you want to be sure to see the incredible activity going on in Napa and Sonoma, visit in mid-September. You will see trucks loaded with grapes, bins of grapes at the wineries, de-stemming and crushing equipment in use and the heavenly aroma of fermentation in the air. Note: Harvest is the busiest time in the Wine Country. If you want to be in the Wine Country during this exciting time of year, if possible, avoid the weekends.
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