Harvest is always a crucial step in the winemaking process and we all anxiously wait for exactly the right moment when the decision is made to begin. Generally speaking, our harvest here on the Sonoma Coast occurs in late August to early October When the time comes, we will be out in each individual block of our six vineyards analyzing and tasting the fruit. We closely monitor the brix and pH levels of the grapes and taste to ensure the flavor will be just right. As soon as we have identified that a vineyard block has reached its peak of ripeness, we send word to our harvest crew that it is time to begin picking.
Because cooler temperatures help our grapes to retain the highest concentration of flavor, harvest starts in the middle of the night and continues through the early morning hours. Most of Sonoma-Cutrer’s grapes are handpicked and placed in special bins created just for us. They are unusually shallow ensuring that the clusters are not crushed under their own weight and are delivered to the winery in pristine condition.
Once the fruit is brought to the winery, we chill it further in our cooling tunnels. These tunnels are the only ones of their kind and are essentially a blast chiller that has the ability to bring the temperature of the grapes down to 50˚in 45 minutes. Having our fruit cool helps it retain its flavor, avoid harsh extractiveness and reduces the potential for oxidation during processing.
Still touched only once, the cool fruit travels to the sorting tables where the clusters are hand – not machine – sorted. This is a highly, labor-intensive step in the process but it ensures that only the grapes of the highest quality make it to the press. Once the grapes fill the press, it slowly and gently crushes them helping us avoid extracting bitter tannins. The cool, golden-free run juice from the press is sent to tanks where it is allowed to settle for 24 hours. After racking, yeast is then added to the tanks before the juice is sent to French oak barrels to complete the fermentation and maturation of the wine.
Harvest is one of the hardest, most exhausting parts of our entire year, but it also one of the most exciting and rewarding.