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.

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