This summer’s more moderate temperatures delayed the harvesting of grapes in Oakley by about two weeks, but it has finally begun. Nearly 80 percent of Oakley’s roughly 500 acres of vineyards is planted in Zinfandel, a variety of red wine grape. Other varieties of grapes in Oakley include: Mourvèdre, a red grape used to make both strong, dark red wines and rosés; Carignane, another red wine grape, is one of the world’s most widely available grapes. These three varieties also make up most of Oakley’s ancient vines (80 – 120 years old).
There are other grapes grown in Oakley: Palomino is a white grape; Sémillon is a golden-skinned grape; other red grapes include; Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Barbera and Alicante Bouschet. Oakley’s grape harvest can conservatively be estimated at about 2,000 tons. These grapes are distributed to a number of local wineries that include: Cline, Bogel, Bonnie Dunes, Gallo and Rosenblum Cellars.
Starting the harvest is determined in large part by the sugar level in the grape. The wine industry uses the term “brix” to designate sugar level. A small piece of testing equipment called a “refractometer” allows a winemaker to assess the ripeness of the grape. A grape is placed in the device and the percentage of brix is displayed on a scale seen through the eye piece. A brix level of 25- 26 is good for picking red grapes. Other varieties will have less or more. White wine and rosés require a brix level around 22 – 23.
The winemaker will also use flavor as a determining factor of when to pick grapes.
I spent Labor Day morning with local vineyard owner and Oakley vineyard manager for Cline Cellars Winery, Alan Lucchesi, as they started to harvest the Cline owned vines located off Big Break Road in Oakley. In about four hours they picked nearly 10 acres harvesting 10 tons of Zinfandel and 14 tons of Grenache. Each vine contains around 25 pounds of grapes. The grapes picked today were first dumped into containers holding 4,000 lbs of grapes and then loaded on to trucks and shipped to Sonoma to begin the wine making process.
The harvest will continue through the first of October so be wary of slow moving farm equipment on the roads. Oakley’s vineyards are dispersed throughout the community making the movement of vehicles including tractors, forklifts and trucks essential to a timely harvest.