Harvest is upon us! It’s the time of year when your favorite Scott Harvey varietals are being plucked from their vines and crafted into the wines you know and love. This will be Scott’s 46th harvest (we still can’t believe it!) and he hasn’t missed one since 1974.
The exact steps in the harvesting process will vary in time, technique, and technology based on the grape, but, for the most part, each harvest includes the same basic vine-to-wine steps. Curious how this process works? We’re doing a deep-dive into how your Scott Harvey favorites are made.
STEP 1: VERAISON AND PICKING THE GRAPES
The grapes have now been through veraison, and it’s time to pick! This year’s vintage will produce some big differences from region to region within our state. Having started with a wet winter, we’ve had plenty of moisture in the ground to develop and grow a healthy crop.
Grapes that flowered early, like in the Central and Napa valleys, are ideal in size and have had a successful growing season. Areas that budded late, such as the high elevation regions in Amador County or Lake County, were caught flowering in unfavorable conditions (such as rain or hail)and many of the flowers did not germinate. This gives us what we call “shot berry”, which means these vineyards will produce less than normal. However, the good news is that the resulting wine tends to be more flavorful and extractive.
When it’s time to pick, the grapes are either cut from the vine by hand or picked by machine, depending on the winery. We prefer the grapes to be hand-harvested at night – when they are picked at a temperature that is too warm, the crushing process develops unwanted bitter components and phenolics in the wine. If we receive grapes picked under hot conditions during the day, they are placed in our air-conditioned winery overnight and crushed the next day when they’re cold. Hand harvesting is more labor-intensive, but can offer superior results. At this point in the process, the grapes are still intact with their stems. These will all be removed in the next step.
STEP 2: CRUSH THE GRAPES
No matter how or when the grapes were picked, they all get crushed in some fashion at this step. The de-stemmer, which is a piece of winemaking machinery that does exactly what it says – removes the stems from the clusters and lightly crushes the grapes.
For white wines, once crushed, the white grapes are transferred straight into a press. All of the grapes are pressed to extract the juice and leave behind the grape skins. The pure juice is then transferred into tanks where sediment settles to the bottom of the tank. After a settling period, the juice is then “racked”, which means it’s filtered out of the settling tank into another to ensure all the sediment is gone before fermentation starts.
Similarly, with red wines, the grapes are de-stemmed and lightly crushed. The difference is that these grapes, along with their skins, go straight into a vat to start fermentation on their skins. This is what imparts the red color into red wine; otherwise, red grapes would simply be some form of Rosé wine.
The sooner the clusters are de-stemmed, the less tannic the wine will be. Some winemakers want little-to-no influence of stems, while others feel that some or all stems in the fermentation fill out the wine’s texture and flavor.
STEP 3: FERMENT THE JUICE INTO WINE
Simply put, fermentation is where the sugar converts into alcohol. To break it down this stage mainly includes:
- Red and white wines:
- Yeast is added to the vats so that fermentation can take place
- Red wines only:
- Carbon dioxide is released during fermentation which causes the grape skins to rise to the surface.
- Winemakers must punch down or pump over the “cap” several times a day to keep the skins in contact with the juice.
- The grapes are pressed after fermentation is complete. After racking to clarify the wine, the reds will spend several months aging in barrels.
STEP 4: AGE THE WINE
As a Winemaker, Scott has many choices at this step but it ultimately depends on the kind of wine he wants to create. Flavors in wine can become more intense due to several of these winemaking choices:
– Aging for several years vs. several months
– Aging in stainless steel vs. oak
– Aging in new oak vs. ‘neutral’ or used barrels
– Aging in American oak barrels vs. French oak barrels
– Aging in various levels of ‘toasted’ barrels (i.e. charred by fire)
When wines are young we taste their primary flavors, like grassiness in Sauvignon Blanc or citrus in Riesling. We may also notice some secondary notes associated with winemaking techniques, like the vanilla flavor from an oak barrel or buttery nuances from malolactic fermentation.
When wines age, we start getting into tertiary notes or flavors that come from development. This could mean young, bold hints of fresh fruit that become gradually more subdued and reminiscent of dried fruit. Other flavors, previously hidden by bold primary notes, come to the forefront such as honey, herbal notes, hay, mushroom, stone, and earth. While the proportion of alcohol, acids, and sugars stay the same, the flavors continue to change over time – which is so fun to watch!
STEP 5: BOTTLE THE WINE
When Scott feels the wine has reached its full expression in aging, it’s time to bottle the wine for consumption. We tend to age our wines for 18 to 23 months in once or twice used French oak barrels with medium toast. Once the aging process is complete, we make them available to you!
It’s important to remember, though, that wine is a living thing and changes with time in the bottle. Depending on the wine, it can take years to decades for the molecular structure to change. That being said, 99% of the world’s wine does not need cellaring andare actually at their peak the day they are released.
Whether you decide to enjoy your Scott Harvey wines the day you purchase or a few months or years down the line, there’s no doubt they will be wonderfully expressive, well-balanced, and enjoyable no matter the occasion. Curious about the varietals we craft, or want to pick up some of your favorites? Take a look at our wine portfolio!