Harvest wines - Carruth

Carruth Cellars' grape harvest

Harvest season is special in viticulture, as it marks the first step toward producing a new vintage, and it’s when the fruits of each winery’s labor come to life. From August to October, grapes are picked from the vine at peak ripeness. It’s the best time of year to visit wine country, and in November you can enjoy the first sips of the season.

Grape harvesting is both an art and a science, and expectations for each year’s wines vary based on factors like frosts, heat spikes, drought—and in recent years, fires. We talked to Nicole Hitchcock, winemaker at Sonoma County’s J Vineyards & Winery, and Michael Eddy, winemaker at Napa Valley’s Louis M. Martini Winery, for the inside scoop on what to expect for California’s 2021 vintage. (Spoiler alert: It’s looking good!)

The 2021 growing year brought little rainfall and lots of warmth to California’s wine country. Historically, some of the best wines have been produced during warm, dry years, so there’s a lot of optimism around 2021 wines. Though there are dangers to dry growing seasons, like limited water access and fire, Hitchcock says one of the main benefits is that dry seasons reduce the risk of disease and rot among the grapes. 

Eddy agrees: “Dry seasons give growers the ability to control the amount of water each vine receives, which allows them to more closely manage the flavor, mouthfeel, and aroma compounds in the grapes and the resulting wine.” This year’s warm growing season also means the grapes will have ample time to develop well into the fall and can be picked at optimum ripeness. Eddy and Hitchcock both say the fruit that’s developed so far in both Napa and Sonoma looks fabulous, which is really exciting for wine lovers.

Another reason harvest season is the best time to visit wine country: the seasonal celebrations. Festivities paying homage to the land and weather for producing another successful vintage became popular decades ago, and the tradition has spread around the world. 

Locally, Carruth Cellars hosts a harvest and crush event at their new tasting room in Oceanside to show guests what an urban winery is all about, and you can pick up some of their limited edition and award-winning wines at their annual Reserve Sale happening Saturday, November 6. 

Up in Temecula, you can become a member of Doffo Winery’s Barrel Club and have the chance to blend your very own barrel of wine, and after some time, take home your bottles. In Paso Robles, Justin Winery hosts an artisanal five-course dinner with sommelier-selected wine pairings, and Chronic Cellars invites guests to taste their new releases and try wines directly from the barrel. 

Harvest gives wineries the opportunity to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments and share their new wines with guests from near and far. The energy, excitement, and optimism are palpable, and a trip to wine country this fall to experience it for yourself is not to be missed.


Nia Ruth is a psychologist by day, and spends her free time writing about wine—but most often just sipping it. She just started her own wine club featuring small-batch wines. Her blog is niaruth.com.

@niaruthwine

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