This year’s annual harvest kicked off the last week of August, and the buzz of anticipation will linger until the last grape has been removed from its vine, around six to eight weeks later.
During the harvest, nothing is more important than picking the grapes at their peak, but getting the timing exactly right involves a lot more than looking at a calendar. “Calling the pick” is a painstaking process that involves a little bit of chemistry and a whole lot of skill.
It all starts with veraison, the ripening of the grapes that causes them to change color. The process began in July, and the fruit was closely monitored well into August, when Chardonnay grapes turned from green to a rich straw color, and Pinot Noir transformed from green to red and finally to a deep burgundy.
When the colors are right, it’s time to start testing.
Throughout harvest, a sampling crew goes out to collect a selection of 100 grapes from several different blocks among Sonoma-Cutrer’s six vineyards. Back in the lab, the grapes are tested for sweetness (Brix), acidity (Titratable Acid) and pH. The right balance signifies ripeness – but the numbers are only half the story.
Once ripe, the fruit needs sufficient hang time to mature and develop the precise taste profile the winemakers are looking for. The ultimate goal is to harvest the grapes when they achieve the perfect balance of sweetness, flavor and texture.
Daily “sugar meetings” are held every afternoon to determine which blocks should be picked the following day. The ongoing process moves from block to block throughout harvest until each vine hits its peak.
Ensuring that the grapes reach their full flavor potential is a team effort, from the vineyard crew that meticulously maintains the vines throughout the growing season to the winemakers, who must rely on their finely tuned craft to “call the pick.”
Yet, there’s really no question who plays the ultimate role in determining the quality of the fruit: Mother Nature. And this year, Sonoma-Cutrer has been blessed once again.
Expectations are high for this year’s harvest, as moderate weather has provided the fruit sufficient hang time to develop its full flavor potential. With harvest well under way, the yield looks good and the quality appears to be exceptional.