We've conducted a simple Pinot Noir winemaking experiment over the years that we repeated in 2018. The grapes from a Pinot Noir block were destemmed into about a dozen small fermentation bins. The sugar level was measured daily during fermentation and when the bins were about 5° Brix—or 12% alcohol—we randomly selected half of the bins to press immediately. We didn't press the remaining bins until the wine had fermented dry and again kept it as a separate lot. After barrel aging both lots for 10 months, we tasted the two wines and again preferred the wine pressed at 5° Brix. When alcohol gets above 12%, it extracts tannins from seeds, but unlike barrel tannins, seed tannins are bitter and remain in the taste well after the barrel and skin tannins have diminished and softened. This bottling is 100% estate-grown Pinot Noir, pressed at 5° Brix to create a wine with a velvety mouthfeel, and aged in French oak barrels, only 30% new so that the lush cherry-plum Pinot flavors dominate over the spicy, vanilla barrel flavors. Double Gold Medal winner.
Now we harvest at night when the grapes are cold; this is better for wine quality and the pickers work faster at night by avoiding daytime heat and nasty, aggressive yellowjackets. They pick as a team and are paid by the ton; the pickers make more money per hour and Navarro harvests more tons per day with this better organized, smaller team.
After a strenuous five or six hours of night harvesting, the crew is ready for a hearty breakfast, so Navarro hires a local chef for the season, cooking a meal that the crew eats with gusto. After the meal and perhaps a game of cards, the crew returns to the field for a couple of hours to harvest the remaining fruit before the clusters begin to warm.
Navarro's harvest crew 20 years ago (right) and today (left). For many years we harvested in the daylight and paid each harvester a specific amount for each bucket picked; the tally was recorded by bucket number rather than name. Recording 1,000 buckets for 25 different bucket numbers inevitably led to some discrepancies, so reconciling was always time consuming.