Almost time

While summer gives way to fall and other parts of the country gird for their first snows of the year, Sonoma Valley has entered the best season of the year, the Indian Summer days that lead to harvest. Mylar ribbons wave madly in the wind, shooing birds away from the ripening grapes. Pinwheels and balloons draw attention to winery announcements (New Release, Wine Sale or Harvest Tour Today Only) and special events. Ninety-degree heat bakes the grapes during the daytime, while fifty- degree nights often leave them tucked beneath a soft layer of fog. Crews
make one last sweep through the vineyards, trimming clusters that are unevenly ripening or are too young to mature by harvest, leaving the discards to compost into the soil. Then they start with the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay vineyards, arriving in the dark to harvest in the cool of the day.

At Kunde, where our old-vine zins are gestating in the historic Shaw vineyard, harvest is still a few weeks away, but loads of Chardonnay grapes arrive daily at the crush pad, waiting for their turn in the presses. Crews are almost invisible from the road as they finish the morning's work. Cars speed by on the Sonoma Highway with no idea that a new crop is on its way to the barrel. Nor can they see the fruits of

our vine's labor, which hangs in dense clumps beneath the carefully pruned canopy of leaves. The grapes have thick purple skins, and flesh as sweet as any table grapes you've ever tasted. They range from blueberry to marble sized, often on the same cluster, where they grow as tight as corn kernels on the cob. That can cause problems if fall rains arrive early. Unless breezes come along to evaporate the moisture, grapes can rot on the vine. Too much heat, on the other hand, can make them shrivel.

Each day brings new crop estimates and more harvesting news. Just a week before the annual harvest fair, more than half the county's grapes still hang on their vines.



August is all about waiting. The valley's first sparkling wine harvests began the early part of the month. White grapes and pinot noirs will come next, and will be followed by the reds. Our Old Vine Zinfandels will be among the last, allowed to develop their rich, robust flavors until the very last moment.

This time of the year finds Tim Bell walking the rows, pulling off shoots that have grown too long and checking the leaves to make sure they're getting enough water. Mostly he studies the grapes. As winemaker, he's in charge of making the final call about which need more time on the vine and which are ready to pick. Once harvest begins, he and vineyard director Steve Thomas will coordinate the complex choreograpy of picking and crushing, making sure each new harvest is funneled into fermenting tanks as quickly as is humanly possible.

Until then, Bell and Thomas watch the weather for unseasonal rain that can grow into mildew or blazing sunshine that can wither the plants. People throughout the Sonoma Valley are poised for the moment when harvest begins in earnest. Then they'll spring to life, staging one of the state's biggest, longest parties of the year. In the meantime, our gnarly vine carries its grape clusters like hidden treasure.