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Savoring the Colors of Fall

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 30, 2006 12:00pm ET

On Sunday, I rode my bike from my home in Napa to Yountville, which is about 10 miles north of Napa.

It’s the tail end of harvest 2006 in Napa Valley and most parts of California, and the weather yesterday was perfect. Cool enough at the start to wear a light jacket. By 10 a.m., it was warm and clear, with no wind.

The fall colors are still rich and vibrant. The grape leaf colors peaked about 10 days ago, and in a couple more weeks, most of the vines will have shed most of their leaves.

At this time of year, all it takes is a couple of good days of wind to rattle the leaves off their branches.

Those who make dessert-style wines, with Botrytis cinerea, the noble rot, might be the only ones thrilled by the damp mornings of late.

One of my favorite smells this time of year is that of fermenting wine. As you drive through wine country anywhere near a winery during harvest, you’ll pick up the wonderful scents of newly-made wines, with their fragrant berry and floral aromas.

You can also see parts of vineyards and the valley where red leaf virus is creeping through the vines. Red leaf is a constant problem for growers, and once it spreads throughout a vineyard, eventually it needs to be pulled, which is why you see so many uprooted vineyards, with their stacks of vines waiting for a good burn day.

I noticed a lot of grapes still hanging on the vines all the way from the north Napa city limits to St. Helena, near Meadowood.

With cooler weather seemingly here now, these grapes will need to come off the vine soon or be lost for harvest 2006.

A winemaker friend of mine told me that one reason some grapes are still hanging is there are no fermentation tanks left. That means he and others will have to wait and hope and pray those tanks are freed up soon.

Fall, with all its brilliant colors, is a spectacular time of year. What color schemes are on display in your neighborhood?

Mary Constant
Calistoga —  October 30, 2006 12:53pm ET
A couple of days ago our vineyard was green and gold with drops of deep purple. Now the purple is almost all gone...we have finished picking and filled up all our tanks. The warm days and mellow dry nights and mornings have been perfect up here at 2200 feet elevation!
Will Miner
Denver, CO —  October 30, 2006 11:28pm ET
James, thanks for that post.

I realized recently that my love of wine is inextricably interwoven with one of my other loves, travel. Wine that I call great, whether inexpensive Australian or pricey Barolo, speaks clearly about the place from which it came. My frustration with California wines these past few years is that I so seldom taste my native state. But thanks for evoking the great place that it is.
Jeff Yates
Napa, CA —  November 1, 2006 5:35pm ET
People ask me when is the best time to come to the Napa Valley. I always tell them that late October and November is my favorite time of the year. You get to see the multi-colored vineyards, yellow, orange and red, the smell of fermenting grapes and the cool evenings. The hectic days of crush are over and things have seemed to slow down a little bit.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 1, 2006 6:25pm ET
Jeff, good to hear from you. One more bonus of the autumn and winter months (when the vines are leafless) is you get a better idea about the lay of the land, the slopes and hills. When the vines are full of leaves it looks entirely different.

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