Video: night harvesting Merlot grapes, Alexander Valley

by on October 20, 2010

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For those of you who enjoyed our Russian River Valley Chardonnay night harvesting video, we’ve also captured footage of Alexander Valley Merlot grapes being harvested at night. This vineyard is owned by Justin Miller and Karin Warnelius-Miller, proprietors of Garden Creek Vineyards. A sixth-generation California farmer, Justin and his wife, Karin, grow grapes for other wineries, as well as their own label.

When Winemaker Rob Davis moved to Alexander Valley in 1976 to work for Jordan, he rented a house from the Miller family, which overlooks this Merlot vineyard. Today, those grapes are grown with care by Justin and his crew–and contribute to the master blend of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

Harvesting Bordeaux varieties at night isn’t as common as night harvesting white grapes, such as Chardonnay. Cold nighttime temperatures preserve the Chardonnay grape’s crisp acids, ideal sugar levels and bright fruit flavors. With red grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, we often harvest mid-morning because we want the grapes to arrive at the winery a little warmer, so fermentation begins faster. The 2010 harvest began three weeks late (see cool weather post) and escalated quickly: It took just 2.5 weeks to harvest all our Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ll be finished receiving grapes this Friday.

With such a compressed harvesting period, we’re juggling availability of stainless-steel tanks with schedules of picking crews. This year, we especially wanted fermentations to begin quickly, so they’re completed in about 8-14 days–and the tank can be emptied and prepared for the next lot of harvested grapes. What’s most important is that the grapes are picked at the optimal sugar levels, which is 23.5-24.5 Brix for our house style. Justin’s grapes were ready to pick late last week, and his crew was available before dawn on October 16.