Bins overflowing with ripe grapes are arriving this week at Villa Mt. Eden's winery in Napa Valley during the waning days of the 2000 California harvest -- a harvest characterized by healthy yields and high-quality fruit.

This year's harvest began in early September for Villa Mt. Eden when grapes arrived at the winery at a rapid pace due to the 100-degree temperatures the region experienced in mid-June. The first varietals on the crush pad were Orange Muscat, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache and Cabernet, while some 500 tons of Chardonnay grapes are still hanging in the winery's vineyards, getting some premium hang-time

"This year's vintage feels more like the 1997 vintage with a warm year, abundant crop levels and the red grapes beating the whites to the crush pad," said Villa Mt. Eden's viticulturist Rick Aldine. "But unlike 1997, where wineries experienced a shortage of fermentation space during the crush, this year the reds came in early, allowing us to get the red wine fermented before the white grapes came in the door."

Aldine anticipates the harvest continuing through the end of October when the last of the Chardonnay grapes are picked. Chardonnay yields are expected to be up by 30 percent over last year. Aldine believes the abundance of Chardonnay will mean Chardonnay lovers can expect superb quality and value from Villa Mt. Eden in the 2000 vintage.

Not only are crop levels substantial, but the quality of the harvest is high overall, according to winemaker Mike McGrath, who has been crafting award-winning wines at Villa Mt. Eden for 18 years.

"We're seeing ideal qualities from our fruit -- the perfect balance in acids, sugars and flavor," said McGrath. "The quality from the red varietals is stellar this year, especially for our Cabernet and Zinfandel varieties. The growing season's warm temperatures, followed by cooler conditions gave us extra hang-time for our Cabernet grapes. Expect ripe, flavorful wines with rich, deep color."

McGrath sources grapes from vineyards across California, including Villa Mt. Eden's own properties, which comprise 235 acres in Napa Valley (Yountville), 196 acres in Monterey County (near the Santa Lucia Highlands) and 562 acres in Paso Robles.

Located on the scenic Silverado Trail, Villa Mt. Eden has been creating distinctive wines in the heart of Napa Valley since 1881. As Napa Valley's 11th bonded winery, Villa Mt. Eden is one of Napa Valley's oldest producers of premium wines. Winemaker Mike McGrath and enology director Jed Steele craft premium Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and other classic varietals for Villa Mt. Eden's Grand Reserve, Signature Series and Coastal wines.