Food & Drink

Pick a time to experience the wine harvest

I had the good fortune to be in California wine country during the thick of the harvest a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to express the excitement from locals as the grapes are picked and reports come in about the quality and amount of fruit.

Those reports say 2014 looks to be a very good vintage, with lots of very pretty, ripe, flavorful grapes. That will mean lots of delicious and interesting wines over the next couple of years.

In any spot in Napa or Sonoma, you can see trucks rolling by laden with ripe fruit. If you’re close enough to a winery, you can even smell the grapes being crushed. Sit in any café and you’ll hear discussions about which grape is ready for picking.

Grapes ripen at different times depending on the type and the location. Many times, white grapes ripen a bit earlier than red ones, and temperature and rain – or lack of it – can make it hard to predict the exact picking times. Securing labor to pick can be an issue, as everyone needs help getting the harvest in.

You’ll also hear discussions about winery space. It’s challenging and complex to juggle winery resources as load after load of grapes arrive. They need to be handled immediately or there’s a risk of losing fruit quality.

It’s a rush just to be near all the action and see the impact of harvest on a wine-growing region.

If you’d like to see a harvest and get a feel for how all those grapes become wine, there are a couple of easy ways to be a part of the excitement. Many North Carolina wineries are harvesting now and are an easy drive from the Charlotte area. If you check the website of a few of your favorites, you’ll often find weekend events celebrating the harvest.

If you can’t get to California, you can watch from afar. Napa Valley Vintners, a trade organization supporting Napa Valley wineries, offers videos of harvest, daily reports, and a great collection of photos and reports from member wineries.

The Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau has a collection of winery websites, and often a winery will post pictures and video of the grapes being picked.

It’s particularly fun to find out what’s happening at the winery that makes your favorite wine, and cheer the growers and winemakers on as they work to create the wines we love.