Fast Facts: From Grape to Glass

Wineries are humming with activity in California this harvest season as they transform grapes into wine. Despite this year’s notable challenges with a pandemic and wildfires, vintners are pleased with the quality of the 2020 vintage. Here are some lesser-known facts about California’s winegrape harvest from the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy group of California wineries and affiliated businesses.

The largest producer in the U.S. California produces more than 80 percent of U.S. Wine and is the world’s fourth-largest producer. What’s more, more than 90 percent of all California wine is produced in a Certified California Sustainable winery.

Seeds hold the clues. Along with measuring the fruit’s sugar, acidity and pH levels, California winemakers continually taste the grapes—making sure to chew the seeds—in days leading up to the harvest. That’s because as grapes mature, their seeds turn brown and become less bitter. By chewing the seeds, winemakers can tell when the grapes have reached perfect ripeness.

Sparkling wines go first. Harvesting early, typically in late July or early August, helps the state’s wineries maintain refreshing acidity in their sparkling wines. While just about any grape variety can be used to making sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most common choices.

The grapes come in after dark. Wineries typically harvest between midnight and early morning, since the cooler nighttime temperatures help concentrate and preserve the fresh fruit aromas and flavors and stabilize sugar levels. Night harvesting also saves energy in the winery because it eliminates the need to cool down the grapes after they’ve been picked. Plus, it provides more comfortable working conditions for vineyard crews.

The state’s top grapes. Chardonnay is the No. 1 grape by tons harvested in California, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon.

One acre of vines = 63 cases. The amount of wine varies by the number of vines planted per acre and the winegrower. On average, one acre of vines produces about 63 cases of wine, or 756 (750 ml) bottles. Vine age, grape variety and growing season conditions also influence the production level.

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