While you may be relaxed into sweater weather, there is a certain population that has just survived the most hectic months of the year. At the mercy of the fickle autumn weather, vineyard managers, cellar masters and winemakers were up before the sun and oftentimes well into the night to make sure grapes were harvested at their peak and this year’s vintage was off to a great start.

As Harvest 2023 wrapped up, we had the chance to talk to Teena Wilkins, proprietor and winemaker for Vina Castellano in Auburn. Known for her Spanish varietals, Teena walked us through her preparation and process for producing some of Placer County’s favorite wines.

A Winemaking Veteran’s Process

“I like to say that harvest is like giving birth,” Teena joked. “After it’s over, you forget the pain and get ready to do it all over again.”

She spent the first two weeks of August cleaning up, checking equipment and moving her office to the crush pad. While ready for an early harvest, this year had a different plan. After losing her entire crop last year to frost, Teena was relieved and delighted with the long growing season and an unseasonably cool September that lengthened the ripening process.

As the birds became more interested in the ripening fruit, Teena began a weekly picking of random berries to taste. Once the sugar levels were confirmed with lab tests, Victor Brambila, her vineyard manager and ‘work husband’ of 22 years, gathered workers and family to pick – tempranillo and grenache for rosato, verdejo and syrah in September and cabernet franc, tempranillo, garnacha and monastrell in October. Crews, including Teena’s husband Craig, gathered before sunrise to pick while the skins were still firm in the cold pre-dawn temperatures then enjoyed a hearty breakfast before sorting, destemming and pressing the fruit.

Damaged crops typically rebound with a smaller yield, but the weather this year helped Teena and her team harvest a ton more than expected. The milder September temperatures meant less rush to pick before a rainy spell or heatwave and allowed Teena to coddle the grapes and manage longer, cooler fermentations across the board.

What’s Next

After 23 years in the business, Teena is now passing on her knowledge and experience to sons Chance and Cooper, both actively involved in the operation along with Cooper’s fiancée Katera Sipherd. The next generation recently opened an outdoor bar serving wine-based cocktails and will soon launch a vermouth program.

She asserts that the 2023 vintage will be exceptional due to the quality of the fruit and more natural winemaking processes. As the holidays approach, you’ll want to keep Vina Castellano on your Wine Trail itinerary. Check vinacastellano.com for winemaker dinners and other events taking place in their wine cave!