Once harvest begins at vineyards along California’s Central Coast, everyone from the picking crew to the winery intern is non-stop busy. So it really touched our hearts when Bill Wenzlau took the time to drop us a line and let us know how happy he was with the job Jim McGarry and the Atlas Vineyard Management team did picking a 4-acre block at his Wenzlau Vineyard Friday morning.
Depending on the size of the vineyard to be picked and what time the winery wants its grapes delivered, harvest can start anywhere between midnight and 5 a.m. in the Central Coast. Beginning Friday at 2 a.m., three Atlas picking crews began harvesting Chardonnay and Pinot from Bill and Cindy Wenzlau’s vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills appellation.
By the time 7 a.m. rolled around, Atlas had delivered about 15 tons of grapes to the winery for processing.
After a dozen years managing vineyards, Jim, our Central Coast regional vineyard manager, knows that winemakers like to get their fruit delivered early in the morning to get a head start on the long day of processing. But harvesting at night serves another purpose: The berries are still cool when they arrive at the winery, making them less likely to start fermenting on their own, before winemakers can start a cold soak or inoculate with their yeast of choice.
To prevent damage to the fruit and make sure clusters are in the best possible condition when they arrive at the winery, all of the vineyards Atlas farms on the Central Coast are harvested by hand.
Setting the stage for the pick
When Bill Wenzlau walked his vineyard Thursday night, in the quiet hours before harvest was scheduled to begin, he saw everything was in place for the early morning start time. Tractors, picking bins, lights and safety equipment were staged and ready to go. Bird netting, which Atlas applied around véraison to protect the developing berries, had been pulled back to expose ripe Chardonnay clusters. (Mark Chien of Penn State has a great presentation about why nets are the best bird control solution here.)
Less than 12 hours after Bill’s walk through the vineyard, Atlas had delivered his grapes to the winery receiving area. As Bill told us, he’d never seen a harvest so well planned and executed.
We couldn’t think of a better compliment.