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L-R: Video of mechanical harvesting of Merlot; Kim loving the new Muscat; juicy Merlot delivered to the winery; Peter Del Bondio, son of Markham President Bryan Del Bondio, interns in the lab; Rogelio cooks up a Saturday working lunch; the cellar crew enjoys lunch.

If you didn't get the chance to visit the winery during harvest, here's an insider's look at what we've been doing for the past couple of months. The video to the left shows how some of our Merlot is machine-harvested. This is our third year of receiving red grapes (only) from mechanical harvesters. The new machines do such a great job of picking cleanly that it is now becoming the preference when offered. The machine picks at night when it is cool and the grapes are delivered to the winery. Mechanically-harvested Merlot can get to cold soaking in the tank almost immediately! I know I am not alone in making the decision to use mechanical harvesters as many of our contemporaries have followed suit due to the agricultural labor issue that we all face in the industry. About 30% of our Merlot is currently picked via machine; Cabernet Sauvignon requires hand-picking because it grows more sparsely within the canopy. 

  We have wrapped up harvest in the vineyard and are now focusing our attention on the new wines in the cellar. If you were to take a tour of the winery at this point, you might see ongoing fermentations that look like science experiments - red grape juice bubbling over tanks until the yeast eventually dies off and the froth recedes. We're constantly tasting and testing before racking them to new tanks or barrels to continue their development. Eventually all of our efforts will end up in a bottle on your dinner table!

-Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls


We were happy to start our harvest the week after the shaking stopped in Napa. We felt very blessed that both our winery and our employees escaped with little more that broken dishes and a big mess to clean. We rallied support for our many of friends and neighbors who needed an extra hand, pulling together as a community to start the vintage right!

I think the best thing about harvest is how amazing the winery smells! Sauvignon Blanc perfumes the air with tropical notes and when the pumpover crews get started in the morning, intoxicating aromas of fermenting red wine fill the air. The last load of night-harvested Chardonnay grapes arrived at 6:00 a.m. today and the boys in the cellar will be happy to have extra sleep tomorrow morning. There is a still lot of work before all the Chardonnay is down to barrels, but the comradery of working hard to make the best wines together is best part of our jobs. Saturday finds us relaxing on the crush pad at lunchtime, enjoying a Mexican feast the crew whips up while they’re working or a fabulous home-cooked meal from our boss, Bryan Del Bondio, who is celebrating his 35th harvest here at Markham!!! The 2014 harvest has been fast, super delicious and, as I look around in surprise, is already halfway over. 

Certainly the hardest part about harvest is the long hours, but this time of the year I pop up out of bed happily each morning.  Though the thought of the non-fat latte awaiting me at the winery might also help? I know the caffeine boost helps me focus on the necessary chessboard decisions while staring at my tank board each day! My kids complain that I smell of sulfur dust when I return home at night from sampling the vineyards every morning. I watch the weather endlessly and it bums me out when the weather forecasters exhibit signs of glee at any chance of precipitation, regardless of how remote. I know we desperately need rain and it must be exciting to predict something other than sunshine daily, but those of us in the wine industry prone to drama & paranoia find no amusement in the possibility of rain showers during harvest!

Back to the good news… just this week we received our ‘Green Winery Certification’ after dedicating the same effort here at the winery that we put into our ‘Green Vineyard Certification’ back in 2013. Lots of hard work and special kudos to everyone here at the winery that played an integral part in making it happen!  2014 is shaping up to be a great growing year topped off by a powerful vintage - what more could a girl ask for?

-Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls