October 20, 2010 | by Lisa Mattson

For those of you who enjoyed our Russian River Valley Chardonnay night harvest video, we’ve also captured night harvest wine footage of Alexander Valley Merlot grapes being picked at night. This vineyard is owned by Justin Miller and Karin Warnelius-Miller, proprietors of Garden Creek Vineyards. A sixth-generation California farmer, Justin and his wife, Karin, grow grapes for other wineries, as well as their own label.

When Winemaker Rob Davis moved to Alexander Valley in 1976 to work for Jordan, he rented a house from the Miller family, which overlooks this Merlot vineyard. Today, those grapes are grown with care by Justin and his crew–and contribute to the master blend of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

Night harvest of Bordeaux wine varieties at night isn’t as common as night harvesting white grapes, such as Chardonnay. Cold nighttime temperatures preserve the Chardonnay grape’s crisp acids, ideal sugar levels and bright fruit flavors. With red grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, we often harvest mid-morning because we want the grapes to arrive at the winery a little warmer, so fermentation begins faster. The 2010 vintage harvest, captured in this video, began three weeks late (see cool weather post) and escalated quickly: It took just 2.5 weeks to harvest all our Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

With such a compressed harvesting period in 2010, our winemaking team juggled availability of stainless-steel tanks with schedules of picking crews. They wanted fermentations to begin quickly and be complete in about 8-14 days–so the tank could be emptied and prepared for the next gondola of harvested grapes. What’s most important for red wine grapes is that the fruit is picked at the optimal sugar levels–which is 23.5-24.5 Brix for our house style. The time of day isn’t as important as it is with night harvested Chardonnay. Justin’s grapes were ready to pick, and his crew was available before dawn on October 16, so it was night harvest wine time for red grapes in 2010.