Archive for January, 2012




A perfect vintage guarantees success. Happiness comes from a great harvest when nature permits grapes reach their potential. Winemakers agree harvest is the most significant event of the year. An entire year’s results and income rests on crucial decisions about the optimum moment to wrest grapes from their vines. Anxiety builds in years with unruly weather conditions or wayward vines, which, like difficult children, require constant attention. Work throughout the year readies the winery for harvest. Stainless steel tanks and the entire winery must be spotlessly clean and barrels ordered.

“Harvest is a few days or short weeks of harried activity, rather than a romantic idyll that hopefully results in a winemaker’s endgame of great wine. It is the beginning of anxious days and nights, of listening to weather stations and watching the sky for hints of damaging rain. The bite in the air and a tinge of color on the grape leaves in August are harbingers of harvest. After months of nurturing grapes, the coming of crush quickens the pulse of winemakers. A vintner judges when sugars, tannins, and acids are correctly balanced because grapes don’t ring a bell to announce they are ready. Baggies are filled with grape samples for baseline readings. Picking bins and trailers are standing by. Everything is ready and everyone is on alert for the frantic moment when grapes arrive at the crush pad. Paid workers and volunteers need to arrive a day too early rather than a day too late.

Grapes are picked berry by berry, or in bunches by machine or by hand. Sticky fingers load grapes into containers that are rushed to the winery. Bees swarm around the grapes on the way to the press. Constant tasting of fruit leaves mouths puckered. Once the grapes are sorted, de-stemmed, cleaned of leaves and debris and finally pressed, the juice begins the process of fermentation. A heady fragrance permeates the air.

There are many steps to be taken before wine is ready for bottling. Length of time wine ferments in stainless steel tanks or ages in oak barrels that come from different forests and toasted to a winemaker’s specifications radically affects aromas and flavor. A winemaker may decide to craft a single varietal, to hold back the best grapes to make a reserve wine. Blending is considered the most artistic step of the process when simpatico grapes enrich the final product. Addition of one grape might add color, while others can contribute spice, weight, tannins, fruitiness, aromas, and finesse. Undistinguished grapes become generic table wines, vin de pays, vin ordinaire, or vino di tavola, or are sold off as bulk wine to other producers.



 Sometimes we forget wine is the end-product of farming, dependant on the sun as life’s accelerator.  Frank Leeds, vineyard manager of Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley says, “Vines are solar-powered. Heat alone won’t ripen grapes.”  In other words, grapes need the sun’s kiss to achieve their very best from bud break to harvest.But it’s interesting to note winemakers concerned with the environment in the vineyard are harnessing the energy of the sun in other ways besides what occurs naturally in the vineyard. They are turning to solar power as a clean and renewable energy source that offsets a winery’s huge consumption of electricity for offices, for processing wine, (think refrigerating stainless steel tanks), and for running bottling lines. These tasks generally take place during expensive peak demand.

Solar panels are springing up over ponds, fields and on roofs in many wine regions. By  “flipping the switch” this technique  successfully keeps energy costs down, a benefit to both producers and consumers.  The expensive panels pay off with rebates and depreciation in about six years. One mid-size Napa Valley winery, able to generate electricity during months of glorious weather, has reduced its annual electrical bill from over ten thousand dollars to just under two dollars. A meter measures indicates how much the winery’s power source contributes to the power company’s grid. The winery becomes an adjunct energy provider to its neighbors.

Cost is important, but pales with the crucial ecological effect of solar power’s gift to the earth. Wineries have joined concerned businesses committed to reducing the environmental impact of conventional power sources. Solar power produces no carbon emissions, substantially reducing greenhouse gases. It is the logical continuation of a philosophy of sustainable and organic grape farming. It’s a win-win situation for the world.