Night harvest in the Willamette Valley
For some, it’s beyond their control. Logistical mixups or over-demand can lead to awkward fruit picking times, sometimes well after the sun has set. The tractor high beams light up, the crew throws on an extra layer and while the masses are sleeping, the beginning of another vintage is trimmed from the vine.
For others, it’s quite intentional. Harvesting by night offers an array of attractive qualities, from chilly clusters to getting an early jump on the day’s winemaking duties.
Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra says about a third of her label’s fruit is harvested by night. She appreciates the logistical gift of showing up to the winery early in the morning with fresh fruit waiting on the crush pad. She cites the integrity of the clusters, which maintain their shape and firm build amid cooler evening temperatures. Additionally, Harrison also considers the health of her picking crews, who are likely to be more energized during a nighttime pick, especially with harvests creeping earlier and warmer every year.
Dan Rinke of Johan Vineyards in Rickreall was working in California wine country in the mid 2000s when night picks became a hot topic. He says it has taken about a decade for Oregon to accept the idea, although it’s still only done by a handful of labels. “I’m not necessarily a proponent, but I see the pros and cons,” he adds. “I would exclusively do it if I could clone myself and be in two places at once.”
While Johan pays a bit more to harvest in the dark, the fruit comes in at an ideal temperature. “If whole berries are important to you, the fruit has got to come in cold,” Rinke says. The vintner adds that most de-stemmers struggle with fruit that comes in warm. Warmer fruit can be soft and slurry-like, causing the machinery to not always differentiate between grape and stem.
Rinke is well aware of the rigorous demands of picking and has gone with a hybrid approach to split the difference between night and day. Johan tends to start around 5 a.m., while it’s still dark. Being the first pick of the day for the crew, the team is energized. Meanwhile, Rinke shows up to work with fruit already on the pad.
“I was just talking about this with the crew and asked an intern if they could tell the difference between the stuff that came in warm and the stuff that didn’t,” says Rinke. “She said she couldn’t until I sent her over to the ferments—some were mush and some were marvels,” he says.
The Future of Night Picking
Others see the worth in the practice, from Evening Land in the Dundee Hills to Antiquum Farm outside of Eugene. With growing seasons inching longer, warmer and more intense, we may see more and more labels opting for the cooling power of nighttime picks.
by Mark A. Stock | markastock.com
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He writes for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.