VINEYARD WORKER Fausto Santiago cuts grapes for Fenton Herriot at the Walker Ranch near Pleasant Valley Thursday Sept. 6. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins


Grape harvest in full swing

It’s that magic time of year in El Dorado County. The grape growers have begun their harvest and the air has the heady smells of green leaves, fresh-turned dirt and tons of just-crushed grapes.

This year winemakers and vineyard managers are cheering. The growing season has been near ideal in both length and temperatures, the fruit is ready to pick and not only are the yields healthy, the grapes had plenty of time to grow and now have layers of intense flavors.

“Everything is looking great,” said Josh Bendick, co-winemaker at Holly’s Hill Vineyards. “After the last two years, we all learned a lot about dealing with rough weather, so this year should be a special one. I’m really excited about it.”

Wineries throughout the county — Fairplay, Pleasant Valley, Camino, Shingle Springs, Coloma and Placerville — are all busy harvesting grapes off vines, hauling them to crush pads, loading them into crushers, and putting juice into fermentation tanks and barrels.

That’s why crush is such a great time to visit a winery. There’s so much to see and, of course, smell.

Plus it’s a great time to visit the rolling hillsides of El Dorado County, where the sweeping views and the steep, undulating vineyards offer ringside seats to the harvest.

There’s a lushness of the still resilient summer, and the green vineyards are just starting to streak with the golds of fall. The leaves are headed for some of the brightest reds, golds and yellows in California wine country.

Crush will continue through October, and in some spots, even into early November.

Vineyard workers started the picking with mostly whites and then the red varietals.

Because of the unique hillsides of El Dorado County, where lots of vineyards are on steep and angled slopes, the ripening progress of the grapes often depends less on the varietals than on the location of vines on a hill. Grapes tend to harvest from the hilltops down — because cold air sinks — and some vineyards can have a 10 degree difference in temperatures from top to bottom.

For visitors, that means that throughout the season, they can experience a variety of grapes being picked and crushed. The smaller wineries of El Dorado County are extremely accessible, so people can watch the entire harvest process and often even get a taste of the just-crushed juice as it goes into the barrels.

The magic of crush and autumn in the foothills is a captivating time for visitors to enjoy.

“I love walking through the vineyards in the evening, sometimes just with my dogs, sometimes with visitors along. We pull grapes and they’re so tasty and sweet,” said Alanna Taff, owner of Windwalker Winery and Vineyards with her husband, Jim. “I’ve been watching the beautiful sunsets and thinking that we’re so lucky to be in this wonderful countryside.”

The El Dorado Winery Association wineries invites visitors to enjoy the wide diversity of award winning wines, visit with the friendly tasting room personnel and see the idyllic views of hillside vineyards, mountains and oak-studded foothills.

The wineries are renowned for making vibrant, distinct, delicious wines, grown in the dramatic elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

For more information visit

El Dorado Wine Association

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