Harvesting Chardonnay in Carneros, Napa

In September 2015 I joined the Truchard winery in Carneros, Napa Valley, for some harvest experience, picking and processing Chardonnay grapes. I just found the pictures and I thought I’d share them, together with a short video.

This is the Carneros region, which is an AVA shared between Napa and Sonoma. Truchard is in the Napa part. It’s a pretty region, a little cooler than other parts of Napa, with rolling hills.

These are grapes ready to pick. Chardonnay. You can see a touch of sunburn on them. They certainly look ready to go!

This is the picking crew. The speed they work is astonishing: three of us ‘amateurs’ were joining in and we were so much slower.

The grapes are picked and put into half-ton macrobins. This is fine if the winery is close by, and in this case it’s just a few minutes away.

The grapes arrive at the winery. First the bins are weighed. Then they are lined up ready for pressing.

The press is loaded by forklift. Chardonnay is often pressed whole bunch, without destemming. It usually doesn’t need sorting: the idea is that the pickers discard any defective bunches. In a damper climate, a sorting table might be needed, but with whites, which are mostly pressed without skin contact, the impact of a small proportion of defective grapes is lesser than with reds, with their extended skin contact.

This is the juice from the press. It looks alarmingly brown and murky, but this is OK. The brown colour comes from the oxidation of phenolics, but this is a good thing for many white wines. It means that they won’t be in the final wine, and so it will be more resistant to oxidation. Phenolics are a vital part of the oxidation process, so you gain more than you lose with Chardonnay – some of the esters and other aroma compounds are lost with oxidation of juice, but then fermentation adds a lot of aromas, too.

Anthony gives us some of the juice to taste. It’s incredibly sweet, as you’d expect, and nothing like the final wine. It takes an experienced winemaker to extrapolate from murky juice like this to the final wine. After the pressing, the juice will be settled for a day to allow some of the sediment to settle, and then it will go to barrel for fermentation.

Anthony Truchard

A short film of the harvest: