First done possibly as early as the 1970’s in California, night harvesting grapes for winemaking is becoming the rule rather than the exception. A practice that is more common with grapes for white wines, it is nonetheless also observed by some for red harvests as well. According to a 2011 article in USA Today, two-thirds of grapes picked for winemaking in California are picked at night. Since California has approximately 58% of the U.S. market (per the Wine Institute), my calculator tells me this means at least 40% of the wines being consumed in the U.S. are made from grapes harvested in the wee hours. I say “at least” because this isn’t just a California phenomenon. Night harvesting has gone global. Why? The Napa Valley Register tells us that “Vineyard managers say night harvests bring in grapes with better sugar levels, acid and ‘aromatics’ — the scents that linger after the grapes go into the bottle.” And they bring in grapes at a more consistent temperature which gives the wineries more control over a key facet in the process.
The most interesting item I found listed in the pro column for night harvests is energy savings. I’ll have to admit, that claim gave me pause. I mean, if you’re picking at night you have to manufacture your own light, right? And that means you’re consuming energy – most often via diesel generators – to create your illumination. Somehow that didn’t conjure up an image I’d classify as environmentally friendly. Yet vintners say because the grapes have to be cooled to something in the region of 55 degrees Fahrenheit prior to crushing and because harvest days can be as warm as 80, 90 even 100 degrees, harvesting the grapes in the cool of the night and reducing the need for significant pre-crush cooling presents a very significant energy savings. Well, all right! I’ve been schooled.
Here’s what the R.H. Phillips folks had to say about their Night Harvest label on it’s reintroduction in 2006. “Night Harvest by R.H. Phillips is made with 80 percent estate-grown grapes, blended with a small amount of coastal fruit to round out the flavors.” They go on to say, “In keeping with the winery’s rich history, R.H. Phillips harvests all of its estate-grown fruit between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Now more of an industry-wide practice in the wine business, R.H. Phillips first harvested under the stars in 1983, a practice pioneered by the founding family, the Giguieres.”
Winemaker: Night Harvest by R.H. Phillips
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Price: $6.99 at Whole Foods
Notes: Pale straw in the glass, this non-vintage Sauvignon Blanc was light-bodied with good acidity. Alcohol was at 13.5%. On the nose I caught whiffs of apple, pear and citrus. On the tongue I found plentiful grapefruit flavor with apple, pear, and hints of spice. It had a very slight creaminess to it as well. On the finish there was a dose of grass which then lingered intertwined with echos of grapefruit. Not half bad for an inexpensive white wine from the grocery store!