As October draws to a close, so does another successful harvest season at Sequoia Grove. All across Napa Valley, the vineyards are transitioning from a verdant green to various shades of red, copper, and gold, announcing the start of fall. Harvest started on August 19th with Sauvignon Blanc from Calistoga and finished on October 12th with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot harvested from our Estate here at Sequoia Grove. During this time, we harvested a total of 558 tons of grapes. This is an incredible yield achieved by the hands of our dedicated team members both in the vineyard and the cellar.
As the weather cools and our hands search for heat inside our coat pockets, we touch base with our winemaker Jesse Fox to gather his thoughts on his first harvest at Sequoia Grove. According to Jesse, harvest 2022 has exceeded his expectations:
“2022 started with ideal growing conditions. Late spring rains gave us the dose of water needed to push our vines. This solidified strong canopies that encouraged even bud break and flowering. A moderate and cool July and August propelled fruit maturation, developing color and tannin with balanced natural acidity. We kept a close eye for an early harvest. Thanks to an intense but common heat wave around Labor Day, our vines reached optimal picking conditions, leading to one of the earliest harvests we have had in decades!”
Let the Fermentation Begin
As it stands, all the white and red grapes have been harvested. As the grape deliveries come to a halt, the attention turns to the hubbub of activity happening in the cellar – with the smell of fermentation filling the air.
Fermentation is the process that turns grapes into wine. During fermentation, yeasts transform sugars in the juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Primary fermentation can take up to 90 days, yet anywhere from five to 14 days is regarded as the norm. After that, the juice in the tanks could already be considered ‘wine,’ yet it’s not close to the award-winning Sequoia Grove wine for which we are known. This is where Jesse and our cellar team shine.
Jesse explains: “One of the most important decisions a winemaker can make is how long to leave the juice on the skins and when to start pressing. Right now, we’re tasting and analyzing each tank daily to track how the wines are progressing.”
Jesse is an advocate of efficiency, saying, “I don’t believe that a long maturation period is necessary. We’ll start pressing in six to 10 days – or once the grapes are ready.”
During the pressing process, the grape skins are removed from the wine. The grape skins are then put through a press, and all the remaining wine is pressed off into a must and transferred into barrels until blending. This laborious process requires a very hands-on team. Luckily, Jesse has introduced a split-shift method, meaning no employee will have to work more than 12 hours at a time.
Jesse adds, “Our shifts are divided into three: early, middle and late. A crew comes in early, sets all the equipment up, and ensures it’s clean and sanitized. Once they’re done, the middle shift kicks in. As there’s much to do in the middle of the day, this shift requires the most team members. They will test, press and repeat depending on what’s necessary. Then, the night team will come in and finish off any processes and start the clean-up.”
The Next Steps
When all the pressing is complete, the malolactic fermentation can begin. Our wines will rest in tanks or oak barrels for a few months and be racked for clarification (a process where the sediment is removed) until January. As the new year arrives, we’ll start with the final blends. Wine blending is mixing wines of different grape varieties or lots to produce a wine with superior flavor and balance to its base ingredients. The blending process is a crucial time for any winemaker, but until then, Jesse and his team will keep testing the wine, cleaning the cellar, and preparing it for the next steps in the aging process of our wines.
It’s also during this time that we give the vineyard some extra care. Before the vines enter their dormancy phase, the vineyard team starts irrigation and fertilization. That way, the vines can store the nutrients over winter until they sprout again in spring. We also plant cover crops to protect the roots from rain and erosion.
From Grapes to Greatness
Once again, we have proven that harvest is, without a doubt, a team sport. Jesse reflects on the 2022 harvest and his team:
“A personal highlight for me was how the team took full ownership of the wines and worked seamlessly together. We are lucky to have good, committed people who work hard and make harvest fun and enjoyable. It’s challenging to ensure my team is rested, focused, and supported throughout the harvest. But when it’s done right, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences.”
Jesse ends, “The wine made from this harvest is already showing great character and balance. This vintage will undoubtedly produce delicious wines full of fresh blue and black fruit with great texture. Select wines are also impressing us with intensity, power, and concentration. With great pleasure, I look forward to sharing my first vintage with Sequoia Grove with you in the near future.”
Congratulations to our team for yet another successful harvest. We’re grateful for another year where we can do what we love, creating excellent wine for you to enjoy.