This year it was a vineyard not more than a quarter mile as the crow flies from where I live that appears to have been given the distinction of being the first to be picked during the 2008 North Coast Harvest. Hunter Vineyards, just down the road from me on Arnold Drive in Sonoma Valley had their grapes removed from the vines on August 1st. The grapes will go to Gloria Ferrer Winery just down the road where they will be transformed into a luscious sparkling wine.

It’s a relatively early start to the 2008 crush due largely to a lack of rain in the spring, a series of significant hot spells and a reduced crop size. Not all these Pinot grapes that were picked will go to Gloria Ferrer’s winery a few miles away. The Hunter Farms Vineyard for years supplied grapes to one of the smaller and lesser known sparkling wine producers in California: Robert Hunter Winery. Their sparkling wine always appealed to me but it has become more and more difficult to find on shelves. The vineyard is planted to more than just Pinot Noir and in fact includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc on its 42 acres.

This area of Sonoma Valley, in and around Glen Ellen, is the narrowest part of the long valley that runs roughly 17 miles from Santa Rosa’s outskirts in the North to the town of Sonoma in the South. It’s called the "banana belt". Climatically it’s a unique part of the Valley. In the summer it tends to be warmer than areas north and south of it and in the winter it tends to be colder than areas north and south of it. In addition, we appear here to get slightly less rain than other areas of the valley. All this would explain why Hunter Farms would be the first to pick their sparkling wine grapes.

So, the 2008 harvest is officially underway. Hoorah! It will be relatively smaller than past years, but still it will last until late October. When the grapes start coming in fast and furious around mid September it can be a lot of fun to visit the wineries and watch truck roll in, see the grapes dumped into the crushers, follow the courses the bees take and smell the smells. I recommend it.

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