To many, Fall means back-to-school, pumpkin spice lattes, leaves to rake, or Halloween festivities. To my family, it’s always meant harvest time at the ranch – and it begins tomorrow night! The life of a grape grower is busy year-round, as I’ve observed first-hand from my dad, but this is a time of year that requires extra endurance. Grape picking occurs twenty-four hours a day for several months; my dad and his crews hand pick during the day and machine pick throughout the night. When he isn’t in the vineyards, my dad hauls tons of grapes to wineries in Sonoma and Napa county from our Mendocino County-based ranch. All of the grapes are certified organic, the most in-demand being Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Petit Sirah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and the lesser-known Carignane grape.
Cox Vineyards is named after my grandfather Jack L. Cox (1936-2015), “Papa” to me, who bought the ranch in 1968 with intentions to subdivide and re-sell. At the time, the formerly-named York ranch was a sheep farm, the only existing vines being eight acres of Carignane. Ironically, he fell in love with the ranch and developed it into the successful vineyard operation that it is today. This is my family’s second harvest without our dearly-missed Papa, but I know he is watching close by.
Growing up in our ranch house, which was built in 1856 and served as a Pony Express stagecoach stop, I watched many harvests from our windows. Even though I can no longer check the crops myself, living 400 plus miles south, I like to call my dad and get the vineyard updates. If you’re an avid wine drinker, I highly suggest reading agriculture reports so you can gauge how the consumer will be affected; perhaps prices will go up or down, or less of a varietal will be distributed.
With the harvest fast approaching, I was eager to hear how the 2016 crop is looking.
“The California crop overall is looking slightly below average and the berries are smaller. That being said, the quality will be better because the fruit will be more intense,” Chuck Vau says.
He explained that typically when the berries are smaller, there’s more skin contact in the juice which makes for a more intense flavor.
It’s also an early harvest this year, starting tomorrow night with the sparkling wine (Chardonnay) grapes and ending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which is estimated to conclude in mid-October. There are some acres of vineyard Dad cannot harvest this year because they are newly planted varietals, specifically a plot of Cabernet; typically he waits until the vines are three years old to begin their first harvest.
I will provide further updates as the harvest continues. Good luck to all the grape growers out there who are also beginning or have begun their 2016 harvest!