The Big Crush

THIS YEAR’S WINE GRAPE HARVEST HAS been a celebratory one, thanks to a “picture-perfect” growing season. It included abundant rainfall in winter followed by endless days of sunshine and moderate temperatures in spring and summer.

“The grapes hung on the vines and gained flavor and complexity without being pushed beyond ripeness by excess heat,” Jackson Starr, winemaker and vineyard manager at Sierra Starr, wrote in a note to wine-club members. “Save for a few birds and raccoons eating some grapes, we love letting the fruit hang.”

Deploying little more than a pair of well-sharpened shears, the vintners, laborers and volunteers fanned out into foothills’ vineyards, hand harvested the grapes, put them
in bins (or lugs) and hauled them off to the winery on a big tractor. It was a well-choreographed operation.

The freshly picked grapes were sorted for quality, crushed and de-stemmed and left to ferment. (Machines have replaced the foot stomping). Harvest continued into October, when the last Cabernet Sauvignon grape is picked. Sometimes a winery dog tagged along. And yes, some local craft beer was consumed along the way.

The vintners tell us the harvest yielded high-quality grapes, so we can expect some great tasting wines in the New Year and beyond. “The 2018 season looks to be a good harvest,” Naggiar Vineyards wrote on its blog. “We saw lots of nice size clusters of grapes.”

This year’s vintage had raised some concerns, thanks to the threat of rain during harvest, too many varietals ripening at once, and wind-whipped wildfires.

But the weather largely held steady, the workers hustled, and the vines remained healthy.

Placer and Amador County vintners also were pleased with the quality of this year’s harvest. At some wineries, staff, some friends and wine-club members foot stomped some grapes for a good time after harvest. But they left the real work to an automatic crusher-de-stemmer.

Other regions, including Napa and Sonoma counties, also are optimistic about the harvest. Most winemakers think this year’s vintage could be better than last year’s.

(Photo: Dan Senkbeil)

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