Monday, October 19, 2009

Harvest in Napa, And We Helped!

This year's grape harvest in Napa is drawing to a close. Most of the vintners are now busy processing their grapes with hopes that this year's bounty will yield award winning wines.

It has not taken us long to make ourselves at home in this beautiful valley. Quent and I, along with one of our dearest friends, Jody, recently lent our unskilled grape-picking hands to some of our wine-making friends. The results? Well let's just say that we still have all of our digits, even though I proudly bear a small scar on my left hand from my first attempt.

Working shoulder to shoulder with the hard working people who do this for a living, you gain a far greater appreciation for the amount of back-breaking labor that goes into making these amazing elixirs. My first picking experience was thanks to our good friends who own Ceja Vineyards. Jody was visiting us from Michigan and together we learned how to properly wield a harvest knife. Its short, curved blade and lightweight handle are typical of knives used during the annual harvest of wine grapes in the area. Although grape-picking machines are used in the large vineyards of California's Central Valley, hand tools like this are preferred on the estate vineyards in Napa.

Jody and I helped the Cejas pick Pinot grapes that were being sold to Mumm Napa to make sparkling wine. After about an hour and a half, Jody and I had picked about 400 pounds of grapes. And there is no telling how many we ate in the process.

A ton of grapes yields about 143 gallons of wine. There are 2.38 gallons of wine in a case (12 bottles), so a ton of wine will produce about 60 cases. Since there are 12 bottles in a case, a ton of grapes makes roughly 720 bottles of wine. The average wine bottle holds .750 ml, and one gram = 0.0044092 pounds, so for each bottle of wine, one needs about 2.78 pounds of grapes. It takes about 630 grapes to produce one bottle of wine. Jody and I picked enough grapes to make approximately 144 bottles and I think we each ate a bottle's worth of the tasty little jewels. Soon after we were rewarded with a delicious lunch prepared by Mamma Juanita, the Ceja family's matriarch. She prepared lunch for all of the pickers. It was the most wonderful chicken mole that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying!

A week or two later, Quent and I were invited by our friend Chuck Custodio, a.k.a Trahan Winery, to an after-dark harvest party at Carneros Della Notte. There, we were treated to a lovely outdoor-dinner adjacent to their vineyards. After wards, a live band played, while, armed with our harvest knives, we picked grapes under a beautiful harvest moon. Extra lights illuminated the many rows of juicy clusters that would soon fall victim to our blades. The grapes at this stage are so ripe, that often, when you take them in your hand to separate them from the vine, the plump orbs burst, spilling their juices before you can place the cluster in the bin. I was having so much fun that I even forgot about some of the eight legged creatures that like to hang out amongst the vines. Upon filing several bins, and bidding our new friends a good evening, we left for home, covered with dust from the vineyards and sticky with the juice that got away.For weeks the air was sweet with the smells of harvest. The rains have come now and soon it will be time to prune the vines in preparation for their winter slumber. While we wait for signs of Spring next year, we will enjoy the fruits of those who labored years before us. We now enjoy each sip with a new appreciation for the efforts of so many that go into making incredible wines.

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