Harvest season: show time in Napa Valley. After months of tending to vines and nurturing the fruit to ripeness, fall harvest brings a whirlwind of excitement as winemakers put their critical skills to best use.
During harvest, it may look to the casual observer that there is nothing out of the ordinary happening. Don’t be fooled.
Innovations in wine grape harvesting find viticulturists and crew out in the field in the wee hours picking grapes while the temperature hovers around 50°F. Vineyard crews are generally finished for the day before most folks are even out of bed.
Chilled by Nature
Grapes go into the winery already cooled by Mother Nature, increasing the quality of the fruit for the winemaking process – and reducing the need to chill grapes before crush. This is yet another example of a low-tech, very green innovation being used by Napa Valley growers.
The region’s dry Mediterranean climate – prevalent on just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface – spoils local vintners and ensures exceptional vintage-to-vintage consistency. The 2012 growing season was spectacular, leaving vintners thrilled with the possibilities. They will be eager to discover when Vintage 2012 goes to market whether it lives up to its promise. The bottled wine will chronicle this time and place for years to come.
Locals describe Napa Valley as a small place with a big reputation – one that is often misperceived. Many know the quality of Napa Valley wines, but few realize that it is one of the world’s smallest winegrowing regions. It produces just 4 percent of California’s grape harvest, and is a mere one-eighth the size of Bordeaux.
Savvy visitors seek out its natural beauty and quaint villages lining the only highway – a two-lane stretch that feels as if you’re driving through a wine list. The region owes its charm and relaxed pace to innovative, locally initiated land use measures developed in the 1960s that created America’s first agricultural preserve. The Napa Valley Ag Preserve ensures that the valley floor will always be in farmland and prevents urban sprawl. Subsequent regulations now preserve the steep and awe-inspiring mountains on either side of the valley. The result: return visitors always feel like they’re coming home.
Come for the Food, Too
Innovative food is now as essential to the Napa Valley experience as the famous wines. Home to the culinary empires of both Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, among scores of others, Napa Valley features more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the United States.
When you visit the valley, consider enjoying a different perspective – from high overhead in a hot air balloon, from the rolling perspective of the Napa Valley Wine Train, or from an electrically powered bicycle riding up rural side roads.
But don’t wait for next year’s harvest. Napa Valley is charming and rejuvenating, seductively revealing itself throughout the year.