Small Yields Help Create High Quality Wines
The yield of wine grapes in Napa Valley is generally half the statewide average. One of the key reasons for this is that Napa Valley vintners bring only the very best grapes to fruition-the reason Napa Valley is the renowned quality leader.
Night Harvest in Napa Valley
Much of Napa Valley's wine grapes are harvested at night. This is good for the farm workers, as there is less heat, they are not exposed to bees and snakes, and are more productive due to cooler conditions; good for winemaking, as when grapes are picked at cooler temperatures, they stay firmer and don't start to macerate and ferment before the winemaker can choreograph the process; and good for the environment as no refrigeration is needed to cool the grapes at the winery and there are fewer trucks on the road during daytime hours.
From Albarino to Zinfandel: Fine Wine Grape Harvest in Napa Valley
Although Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are 12% of the California wine grape harvest, they account for 41% of the wine grape harvest in Napa Valley, usually generating nearly 60% of the value. But Napa Valley, with its rare, dry Mediterranean climate grows a wide range of fine wine grapes...from Albarino to Zinfandel. The top varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (in descending order). Overall, the region's quality-focused wines lead the American wine industry—interestingly, at just 4% of California's wine production, Napa Valley has a mighty value of 34% of California's wine industry's economic impact on the US economy.
Napa Valley Harvest: An Artisan Approach to Agriculture
Nearly all of Napa Valley's wine grapes are picked by hand, the culmination of an artisan approach to agriculture throughout the year. Twenty years ago, vineyard workers typically made only three passes through the vineyard: "prune, sucker and pick." Now, workers typically make more than 20 passes, for viticultural practices such as pruning, shoot pulling, trellising, canopy management, "green harvesting," cluster management, and site specific irrigation decisions. In just the harvest phase alone, picking fruit perfectly ripe can mean 3, 4 or even 5 passes.
The Harvest in Napa Valley Typically Runs from Mid-August to Early November
The harvest in Napa Valley typically runs from mid-August to early November, generally starting in the Carneros for sparkling wine. Different varieties and the order in which they are usually picked then proceeds from cooler regions for Chardonnay and aromatic whites, moving to lighter bodied reds such as Merlot and Pinot Noir. Finally comes valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon, then hillside Cabernet and in many years, delicious late-harvest wines.