Five Reasons Why Wineries Night Harvest Chardonnay Grapes

Why night time is the right time for winemakers

Today, night harvesting has been embraced as the best way to harvest chardonnay wine grapes, with many of the finest wineries in the world practicing the method. Here are five reasons veteran winemaker Rob Davis of Jordan Winery has night harvested chardonnay grapes since 2000.

IT PRESERVES THE PURITY OF THE FRUIT

Keeping grapes cold protects the delicate flavors, skins and pulp. Heat can “cook” fruit and make it flabby, destroying important acidity and softening pulp so the fruit tastes “fat.” By picking when fruit is chilled, the grapes remain clean and fresh. You can taste the difference in the juice even before it’s made into wine—it’s crisp and rich and dances on the tongue.

IT SHOWCASES BALANCED FRUIT FLAVOR

Many California Chardonnays tend to be ripe, full-bodied and buttery, with higher alcohol levels. But Jordan Chardonnay’s style is Burgundian, highlighting complex fruit, notes of earth and minerals, and a crisp, lively character boasting Fuji apple and citrus flavors. Cold temperatures keep acidity higher, minimize phenolic extraction of the skins and keep astringency in check. Warmth also changes the sugar composition of grapes, and can promote undesirable wild yeast fermentation. Higher sugar levels lead to the higher alcohols that Jordan avoids. By picking chilled, the resulting wine is fruit-forward but elegantly balanced, showcasing stone fruit nuances and vibrant acidity.

IT’S GOOD FOR THE VINEYARD TEAM

In the beginning, it was a bit of challenge to recruit night picking crews for Jordan. Working at night was a novel idea, and it took some convincing for vineyard workers to change their ways.

All our Chardonnay grapes are picked strictly by hand, making it extremely hard, meticulous work. Although the Russian River Valley may get cold at night, the days can be very warm, and the crew quickly realized the benefits of not laboring through hot, sunny days. Pickers were able to work faster, and they’re also paid higher wages for working at night.

IT MAXIMIZES WINERY EFFICIENCY

Jordan uses just one hopper to receive grapes and send them to crush. And sometimes chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon harvests overlap. Cabernet grapes like warmth—it brings the rich, silky Bordeaux style that is the hallmark of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. The crew harvests and manages the chardonnay grapes through the night, then switch to the cabernet grapes during the day. Interestingly, picking the grapes when they’re cold saves energy, because they don’t have to be mechanically pre-chilled before they’re crushed.

Winemaker Rob Davis of Jordan Winery

IT’S FUN

There is something magical about being awake in the wee hours, when the rest of the country is so still and quiet. We attach lights to a tractor, and move swiftly through the dark vines. Davis has an amateur interest in astronomy, and he tries to take a moment to gaze up at the sky and count the stars during each pick. If there’s a full moon, it makes night harvest even more special.

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Born and raised in rural Kansas, Lisa Mattson fell in love with wine during college in South Florida and worked for a wine magazine before moving to Northern California. Her days are spent being a writer, photographer and videographer for Jordan Winery and nights cooking Thai food or microgreen salads. When she’s not eating and sipping her way through Sonoma County, she travels the world with her husband in search of the best restaurants, snorkeling spots and tiki bars.

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