Actually, very early in the morning harvest....
Extreme summer heat and drought conditions made for a brief harvest season this year. We picked our Zinfandel on September 10 and wrapped up harvest on September 24, finishing with picks of the Mourvèdre and Tannat.
This year September temperatures in Paso Robles averaged in the upper 90s to low 100s. To deal with this we decided to harvest in the dark, beginning each pick at 5:00 am. This gave us two hours before the sun even came up, and another hour or so before the heat really kicked in. While the big players roll out giant spotlights to light up the vineyard, we made it work with headlamps and two small lights mounted on the tractor.
Harvesting in the dark has a number of benefits. You're up working before the bees, flies, and snakes, you get to watch the sun rise over the vineyard, and the pick is much more pleasant for the crew. There's also a benefit to the quality of the fruit. When the grapes are picked at cool temperatures, sugar levels are more stable. This ensures a smoother process as the grapes begin fermentation.
With harvest over (and early morning wake-ups behind us), its time to prep for winter. Next up, planting the cover crop and crossing our fingers for rain!