Harvest has started and you can hear the noise at night and in the mornings and smell it in the air and in the wineries. At West Wines we are in the middle of picking Sauvignon Blanc. It is usually the first of our grapes to be picked since a good Sauvignon Blanc requires decent levels of acidity and not too high sugar and this grape variety ripens early. The exception is Chardonnay for sparkling production which happens even earlier. Our Chardonnay for still white wines is next and then Viognier. Viognier needs longer time to ripen and preferably not too hot weather. The Sauvignon Blanc is now at 22.5 Brix which we find ideal and the taste is just right and the other grapes are on their way.
All our grapes are harvested manually, most of them at night. That is to ensure the grapes are picked at as low temperatures as possible and we don’t risk having warm grapes starting to ferment in the sun before getting to the press. Of course we need good light for picking so if you come by at night you will see big flood lights tugged by small tractors between our rows lighting up the vineyard.
Cabernet Sauvignon on the other hand usually takes quite a while to mature. We have harvested our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as late as early November, but usually it is mid to late October. We are looking for about 24 Brix, a bit lower than some of the fruitier Cabs in California, but we are after a more European style. This year everything has been a bit early, but our Cab at this point is far from ready. Depending on the weather over the next month we shall see what happens. Our red grape vineyard is very steep and winds its way in many directions so night picking is out of the question. Instead we get started at the crack of dawn as soon as you can see just enough. This vineyard is pruned to 2.5 tons per acre to ensure the highest quality fruit, so picking takes longer time since there is less fruit per vine and of course the uneven terrain. It is really beautiful to be in the vineyard when the sky is getting pink from the sun behind Mount St Helena and finally gets up and the valley is finally bathing in sunlight. Combine that with the scent of ripe grapes and it is an experience which is hard to beat.