The Big Crush: Wet winter leads to a fruitful harvest

THIS YEAR’S WINE GRAPE HARVEST WAS remarkably normal compared with past years, a relief to growers who have been suffering from the prolonged drought. Mother Nature delivered a wet winter and warm summer.

Deploying well-sharpened shears, the vintners, laborers and volunteers fanned out into the vineyard, harvested the grapes, put them in bins (or lugs) and hauled them to the winery on a big tractor.

Some local winemakers bought grapes from neighboring vineyards and brought them back to their winery in a truck for processing. Seeing the truckloads of wine grapes—pulling into Nevada City Winery in the historic downtown, for example—is a telltale sign of fall.

Crush happens right below the deck of Nevada City Winery’s tasting room, so guests can enjoy the sight and scent of winemaking while enjoying a glass of wine—a memorable experience.

At the wineries, the freshly picked grapes are sorted for quality, crushed and destemmed, and left to ferment. Harvest continues into October, when the last cabernet sauvignon grapes are picked.

Sometimes a winery dog tags along. And local craft beer is consumed along the way. (“It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine,” as area winemakers such as Mark Henry of Montoliva often joke. Mark was once a brewmaster too.)

Experienced winemakers such as Mark Foster of Nevada City Winery and others tell us the harvest yielded high-quality grapes, so wine enthusiasts can expect some great tasting local wines in the New Year and beyond. Placer County and Amador County vintners also were pleased with the quality of this
year’s harvest.

This year’s vintage faced some challenges, thanks to a heatwave during harvest, wildfires, and a shortage of vineyard labor. But the weather largely held steady in the foothills, the workers hustled, and the vines remained healthy.

Last year’s California grape crush came in at 4.2 million tons, up nearly 10 percent from the previous year. This year’s crop is expected to exceed 4 million tons, but fall short of last year, according to agricultural officials.

(Photo: Dan Senkbeil)

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