Wine country is home to the amazing life cycle of the grape. From vine to wine, we’re looking at the winemaking process. Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries approach the process differently but essentially follow the same pattern. Check out the steps here and learn about winemaking.

Winter Pruning

With more grape varieties in Napa and Sonoma than most regions, pruning actually takes a long period of time. Pruning is the process of guiding the vine to where it needs to be, to grow in a  certain direction for a specific purpose. Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries will do this around winter.

Bud Break

An exciting time in wine country, bud break is when the first buds peak from the vine after being dormant for so long. This can be a two month process depending on the vine and variety.


About a month of vegetative growth will pass and tiny bunches of flowers will emerge. From each flower, a grape has the potential to grow. Vintners are concerned about frost and wind at this time and they take steps to protect the tender young shoots. This can be in the form using large fans to circulate cold air, heaters to warm the air temp and vineyard, or sprinkling the vines with water to create a thin coat of protective ice. If you’re wandering Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries during this time, see what methods they’re using to protect young vines.

Fruit Set

Now-pollinated flowers will begin to drop their small petals and tiny green spheres start to grow. Slowly, bunches will take shape of the classic grapes that we know and love. Once set, the fruit starts to ripen.

Canopy Management

Spring has brought shoot growth and it now must be maintained. From leaf removal to vigor management, shoot thinning to shoot positioning, vines experience this canopy management to create a balance of shade, sunshine, and air circulation. Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries will work hard to create the perfect balance during this step.

Crop Thinning

Aka Green Harvesting. This is when unripe grapes will be dropped to leave only the most perfect grapes to flourish. Napa wineries and Sonoma County wineries will purposely create lower yields so that the fruits will produce bolder flavors.


Grapes will change colors from green to that deep purple/red that we see during harvest. Veraison is a sign that the grapes are starting to ripen and soften and occurs over an extended period of time.


It’s happening now and oh boy is it a wild time! Months of preparation lead to the time where grapes are picked. Tested, tasted, and tested again for sugar levels, maturity, flavor, texture, and color, Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries each choose specific moments to harvest and start the process of turning the grapes into wine.


Using the latest technology, winemakers begin gently crushing grapes. De-stemmers single out the berries and new technology can even specify which berries to keep and which to ditch. Red wine grapes will be crushed but kept with their skins during fermentation while white wine grapes will be separated from their skins for fermentation.

Fermentation & Aging

Fermentation allows grape juice to become wine. Yeast will convert the juice and a series of techniques will take place according to the type of wine. For example, Sauvignon Blanc and other light white varieties ferment at cool temps in stainless steel. Pinot Noir will typically sit in its skin before the fermenting process to extract more color. Aging then occurs most commonly in oak barrels. Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries will use French or American oak usually to age the wine and create distinct flavors.


The final step. When the wine is ready, bottling begins. During the right season, you can see Napa Valley wineries and Sonoma County wineries bottling very quickly but carefully.
Now that you’re an expert at the winemaking process, it’s time to visit wine country! Tour through Napa Valley wineries or Sonoma County wineries and see the process before your very eyes!