Sparkling WineGrapes for sparkling wine are usually the first to be picked to ensure the bright acidity that winemakers are looking for in sparkling wines. The primary grape varieties harvested for Napa Valley sparkling wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the majority of which are from the cooler Carneros region.
Winemakers creating lighter styles of Chardonnay are looking for slivers of bright acids showing through; those making Chardonnay with a sense of nectar are looking for slightly more developed sugars, translating to more time in the sun. Deeper, richer flavors of pear or caramel in Chardonnay typically take time in wood barrels and express a note or two of butter.
Red wine grape varieties such as Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Sangiovese are often picked in advance of the most intense period of harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. These red wine grape varieties tend to flower earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon; they typically have thinner skins; and are usually less dependent on phenolic development (tannins) than many Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
There are a multitude of variables that go into when Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are picked: the location of the vineyards within the Napa Valley’s 16 nested AVAs and the many microclimates in our region; hillside or valley floor fruit; whether the vines are on the eastern slope (which receives more hours of sunshine) vs. the western slope (which receives somewhat less sunshine); what type of soil the grapes are grown in; and the style of wine that the winemaker ultimately seeks to create. The harvesting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Napa Valley begins later than most other varieties and typically lasts the longest. In some years that may mean the middle of November before Napa Valley’s harvest of grapes to make dry wines is officially considered “done!”
So get out and enjoy the crush and the harvest this year! And keep these timelines in mind as you taste each (and every) bottle!