Wine Country Autumn

Wine grapes

In Northern California it is early autumn and it is unfolding beautifully. We are experiencing cool nights in the 40s F. (4 C.), occasionally in the 30s (-1 C.). Days are warm when the sun shines…and it almost always does. About 75 F. (23 C.).

 

One of the biggest events right now is the grape harvest. Wine grapes are harvested at different times, depending on many things; but many are picked in the early fall before the rainy season arrives.

 

Large trucks labor up and down the small highways bearing big open boxes of grapes. Most of us have spent our share of time patiently sitting behind these slow-moving trucks on impassable roads. I use that time to look at the sun glistening on each purple jewel.

Bewick’s Wren on grape vine, California

The wine harvest attracts many visitors to the area, lured by the slick marketing of vineyards with their festive “stomps”, release parties, and energized tours. I drove through Napa County yesterday and counted six hot air balloons languidly suspended overhead, another popular tourist draw in autumn.

 

Every weekend there are animated harvest celebrations going on with gourmet food, live music, and free-flowing wine.

 

Other harvesting that goes on here, to a far lesser extent, are apples and pumpkins. I also see persimmons and figs on trees.

 

Persimmons on tree, California

Local Farmer’s markets have tables piled high with colorful peppers of all kinds, table grapes, heirloom tomatoes, and plums. The waning summer harvests are still yielding green beans, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, eggplants. Squash are coming out now, too.

 

Squash

 

We have had two short rains recently, so the autumn dry grass is not quite as intimidating as in past years. The anniversary of the raging 2017 wildfires is next week, and we are frequently reminded that we’ve now entered “Fire Season.” We hope for rain and work on ways to protect our families and homes.

 

Wildlife is shifting at this time of year, with the bird migration underway. A few species are coming in to settle here for the winter, and more will arrive as the temperatures up north cool.

 

I await the arrival of the sandhill cranes, due in about a month, if we get rain.

 

Sandhill cranes with red-winged blackbirds

 

Other birds like hawks and warblers are passing through from the northern parts of the continent as they travel to their summer homes in Mexico, Central and South America.

 

I’ve seen numerous flocks of swifts and waxwings in the past few days.

Healdsburg chimney and Vaux’s swifts

 

Cedar Waxwing

 

Due to the hot days, the reptiles can still be seen during the day when it’s warm. I saw a snake track on my morning walk yesterday, and was reminded of the thick rattlesnake I almost stepped on recently on the same path.

 

Lizards skitter as always in the heat, but now there are many little ones, smaller than my pinkie.

 

Chipmunks, squirrels, and jays are busy burying acorns, and woodpeckers are boisterous and frequent in the oaks. Several acorns fell out of the blue oaks above me this morning, acorn woodpeckers are on the move.

 

Tall grass is blonde and beautiful. The soil is so dry it is powder. Deciduous trees are starting to lose their leaves.

 

Other than the scent of dry vegetation, the distinct and common smell of vinegar is in the air. As the grapes are being picked and processed, the smell of freshly crushed grapes and fermentation are pungent. You can smell it everywhere in the valleys.

 

Both the big wineries and the small boutique wineries are bustling. Residents who grow and make their own wine have purple-stained fingers. This is a small grape press of a neighbor’s.

 

Grape Press with sides removed

 

I breathe in the smell of “the crush” with great reverence, and fervently hope we will be spared the wildfires this year.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

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65 thoughts on “Wine Country Autumn

  1. How you have to suffer witnessing wildlife and the autumn’s rich ripening.
    The sweet assortment of oder’s must be intoxicating and making you dizzy.
    California is crazy beautiful nearly any time of year but now is exceptional!
    Fabulous photos Jet.

  2. A grape post featuring the best of autumn! I have fingers and everything crossed you get the right levels of rain to allay any wildfire fears this season. Fabulous photos and descriptions of a beautiful location and season – definitely one to savour!
    Thanks, Jet, and we wish you both a wonderful weekend!

  3. I have not heard of any harvest or grape pressing activities open to the public in Paso Robles, where we have several hundred wineries in the area. We havenโ€™t had any rain in many months. Lovely musings on fall in your neck of the woods.

    • Wonderful to hear from you, Cindy, and to get the update on the current status of Paso Robles, too. I hope we all get rain this season, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

  4. Such an interesting post. I love that grape press. I tried to grow a persimmon, but never had any luck here. I know there are varieties that thrive in more wintery conditions, but don’t seem to have the luck.

  5. You are so lucky to have my favourite birds so handy. I recognized the Bewick’s wren right away because often we had one sleeping under the roof of our bedroom deck on a little ledge on top of the corner post, or sometimes inside the hollow at one end of the roll up blinds. Sandhills, cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, all great favourites of mine. We don’t see them often here, but they are special when they do show up. What a land of plenty California is!

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing about the birds you liked here today, Anneli. We are indeed lucky to have those three species with us for the entire winter. And I am always enamored of the Bewick’s wren, visits our backyard almost every day. I can always hear the wren before I see it, so it’s a fun game of hide-and-seek. My best to you, and many thanks.

  6. Your autumn weather sounds lovely. I’m trying to imagine the smell of freshly crushed grapes and fermentation… Around here it’s all apples and cider and fresh baked apple and pumpkin pies. You will be in my thoughts as I also hope you will be spared the wildfires this year. Loved the cedar waxwing picture. I saw my first one ever back in June, eating mulberries from mulberry tree.

    • Thank you for your truly lovely words today, Barbara. The smell of the grapes and fermentation that permeates the valleys right now is grape juice, that is probably a tangible olfactory image for you. And congratulations on seeing your first ever waxwing this past June. When you see them up close, it’s enchanting, isn’t it? They’re such incredible birds. They have a very high-pitched whistle sound, I heard it several times today, even when I went into town. And how glorious it must’ve been to see them eating mulberries. Many thanks for your images!

  7. Hi Jet, we are experiencing a cooler autumn than usual here in the Pacific NW where I live. I enjoyed seeing your photos and hearing about the wine harvests. The Waxwings are such a beautiful bird. ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • I liked hearing about your autumn in the PNW, Jill. I was watching the Rams/Seahawks game last night, played in Seattle, and folks were pretty bundled up. I thought it must be a little chilly, was glad for your confirmation. I’m glad I could share the wine harvest with you. Thanks for your visit.

  8. I can just imagine how wine country is hopping. It probably feels like an invasion! Beautiful any time of year, fall there is magical… can’t blame folks for wanting to experience it. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I’m hoping that the extra rainfall dampens the threat of fire – a danger no one can take for granted.
    Happy weekend to you both! โค

    • No, it doesn’t feel like an invasion, but I think that’s because I stay away from all the events. lol. I like smelling the grapes, and I like that the wine is bringing in economy, but I must admit I probably have one glass of wine a year, so the allure escapes me. But like you, Eliza, I love the vegetation and landscapes, and always the endless beauty. Sending my best wishes to you for a happy weekend too. Working in the yard, should be fun.

  9. What a beautiful post, Jet! That first photo of the rich full luscious looking grapes reminds me of the grapevine in my parents yard when I was a little girl. And the sweet Wren and the Cedar Waxwing bring back special memories as well. I can almost smell the grapes in the last photo of the crushing! Wishing you a healthy year, free of danger, free of fires.

  10. LOVED these!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially the one with all the red-winged black birds – don’t think I’ve ever seen that many together at once. Also, I love wine. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I am happy you enjoyed the wine and red-winged black birds, MB. the people flock here for the wine, and the red-winged black birds flock here for the food. Glad to have shared it with you today, thanks for your visit.

  11. I love that you all are experiencing the wine harvest, while we are experiencing (and wrote a post about)… the rice harvest! Love your evocative descriptions of this time and season and wine makers stained hands. So beautiful.Makes me miss Autumn all the more.. here its hot and humid for most of the year. I’m not complaining though as I will take heat over extreme cold any day.. but I have always loved and miss the unique beauty of Autumn. Excited to be in Grass Valley early November visiting our kids.

    Peta

    • Oh how lovely you will get to be in GV in early November, Peta, not just to see your kids, but to experience what will probably be a bit of Northern California’s lingering autumn. I’ll be in Georgia (USA) then, where I think it will be warm. Wonderful to hear about the rice harvest…I look forward to reading your post. You always transport me, and so elegantly too. Many thanks and cheers to you and Ben.

  12. Enjoyed the description of the sights, sounds and smells of autumn in your area! We’re also beginning to see a change here in Georgia. It’s still hot, but our mornings and evenings are a bit cooler and the vibrant green of summer is starting to fade.

  13. Autumn always was my favorite season in northern California. The colors of the grape leaves and the excitement over the harvest was wonderful, but for me, the golden grasses blanketing the hills were just as beautiful. I rarely drink wine these days, but autumn’s the time when some of the best California wines begin to tempt me: particularly the signature cabernet sauvignon. When I sip a glass, it carries me right back to your wonderful world — enjoy the season!

  14. I also hope you’re spared the wildfires Jet. Apparently, people in the Bay area will be without electricity to avoid sparks from trees that fall against the high voltage cables. Thanks for your nice and vivid post.

  15. What a lovely time of year. We occasionally have a Bewick’s come visit, but we’ll only see Waxwings once or twice a year and never more than a dozen. I hear the LA area has fires these days, hopefully you folks continue to dodge the bullet.

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