What Happens During Harvest at Silver Oak Napa Valley

Harvest is an incredible time of year. Our vineyard and winemaking teams tirelessly work all year long in preparation for these few months when the fruits of their labor start the journey to become wine. When the winemaking team determines the grapes are ripe, the vineyard crews work quickly to harvest the fruit in the cool, early morning hours and transport them to our Oakville winery. However, harvest is more than just the picking of the grapes. Once the grapes arrive at the winery, the winemaking and cellar teams work around the clock to complete the harvest process.

We met with Napa Valley Production Winemaker Laura Oskwarek who broke down harvest at our Oakville winery and the important first steps to turn grapes into wine.

Grapes in a half-ton bin are emptied into a hopper

1. Freshly harvested grape clusters arrive at the winery in half-ton bins called macro bins. The bins are emptied into a hopper and the grapes move up an incline before dropping onto the sorting table.

Harvest workers at the sorting table

2. On the sorting table, several members of the cellar team remove MOG (matter other than grape) by hand.

Loose grapes ready to be crushed

3. The clusters fall off the sorting table into a second hopper and onto another incline that leads to the destemmer. Stems are removed and the loose grapes fall through to a third hopper where they are gently crushed.

Juice from harvested grapes

4. The gently crushed grapes are then put into tanks. Each vineyard is kept in its own tank and specific blocks within vineyards are sometimes kept separate, too. (There can be as many as 70 different tanks at one time!) Now, primary fermentation (converting the juice into wine) will begin.

Wine samples for testing

5. Primary fermentation can take two or more weeks. During this time, the winemaking team tastes each tank daily to see how the wines are progressing. Once primary fermentation is complete, the juice is technically wine—but it still has a long way to go before it becomes the Napa Valley Cabernet that you know and love. The winemaking team also makes decisions about pressing at this time.

Pressing is the process of removing any remaining wine from the grape skins

6. Pressing is the process of removing any remaining wine from the grape skins. When the winemaking team has decided which tanks to press, the skins are dug out by hand (an incredibly labor-intensive process) and put through the press.

Pressed off wine from grape skins

7. In the press, all remaining wine is pressed off the grape skins. (Generally, the pressed-off wine, or press fractions, is kept separate until blending.)

Silver Oak winemaking celebrating the end of a great harvest

8. With pressing complete and all the wine in tank, malolactic fermentation is initiated. After malolactic fermentation, the wines will rest in in their tanks for a few more months where they are racked for clarification (a term that means sediment is removed) until it’s time to make the final blend in January.

Silver Oak winemaking and cellar teams celebrate a great harvest

For now, a toast to our hard-working winemaking and cellar teams! Here’s to the bountiful 2018 harvest season.

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