Wildfires & Harvest

 

On the evening of October 8, we witnessed a furry of hurricane-force winds, the likes of which had never been seen in Wine Country before. Starting in the northwestern section of the Napa Valley, at the foot of Mt. St. Helena north of Calistoga and traveling west towards Santa Rosa, trees fell onto power lines and several fires broke out simultaneously all over our Valley. Suddenly, the mountains of each side of the valley were engulfed, from the south-eastern hillside in Atlas Peak and up Soda Canyon, along the Silverado trail, to the eastern hills along Mayacamas and Trinity Road, Dry Creek and into traveling over the hill into Bennett Valley, destroying homes and businesses and leveling subdivisions as far west as Santa Rosa

Without power in most of the Valley, many people had no cell service and couldn’t be reached. Transistor radios became all the rage for information. At HL Vineyards, we also had no water, as our pump wouldn’t work for the well or pressure tank for the house, so we couldn’t irrigate the vineyard or landscaping around the house (or flush the toilet without refilling it with jugs of bottled water, or wash clothes or dishes or fill the coffee pot… the list goes on!) for 13 days.

Businesses were closed for many days, not being able to get employees to work or product to sell. Parts of St. Helena felt like a ghost town, and everyone was on edge with their most beloved possessions piled up in the back of their cars, just in case. There was only one restaurant open in St. Helena, and it became the meeting place for evacuation stories and amazing wines — lots of older wines came out of cellars that we never thought we would get the opportunity to try again ( I opened a 1997! Our first vintage!), and were shared over a meal.

Our Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the Grenache and Carignan grapes for the Rose had been picked more than a month prior, and were safely fermented dry in the tanks and ready to be racked off the lees. But our main concern was now getting the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit off of the vines. Without power for a few days, many wineries relied on backup generators. But there were still holdups in scheduling grapes to be delivered and crushed at the winery, as wineries lost employees or staff was evacuated or stranded and couldn’t come to work. And our vineyard manager had many of their crews off fighting fires and plowing fire breaks with their heavy equipment in order to save homes and vineyards of their clients.

The winds continued to blow and the fires spread. Smoke and ash filled the air, and suddenly there was a rush on smoke masks at our local hardware stores. Plumes of smoke would develop from peaks on either side of the valley as new fires popped up on all sides, but remarkably, the eastern hillside near Howell Mountain and the valley floor escaped any threat.

Finally, our incredible crew from Barbour Vineyard Management assembled at day break, with stacks of picking bins, trucks for hauling fruit to the winery, fork lifts to stack the bins and bobcats to haul the bins down the rows. Two crews of nine pickers and several friends in the industry spent five hours picking the entire ranch to get the grapes into the winery as quickly as possible. Amazingly, there was very little damage from either the heat or the smoke!

The fruit was separated into the premium HL (from the center block) and the Two Old Dogs blocks, washed crushed and de-stemmed, then sent to the stainless steel fermenting tanks to rest at a cool temperature overnight. Six barrels with stainless steel caps were filled 2/3 full, for the barrel fermenting part of our Herb Lamb Vineyards Reserve wines program, with the final selection to be determined in a year.

After fermenting for more than a week with gentle pump-overs, the wines were syphoned off of the skins and seeds and the juice continued to ferment until dry, when they were pressed off and put into barrels to age another 20 months. By all accounts, the wines in the barrel are beautiful and picked fully ripe, with cherry/berry flavors and bright fruit. 

As we reflect, we’re still a bit raw with emotions and memories of being evacuated, living with friends for a few days, or taking their families away from the North Bay because of the poor air quality and threat of fires. So glad to say that we are all back in business and moving forward to help others and invite customers back to one of the most beautiful places in the world. Come try our restaurants, wines and hospitality and see the passion we have for working hard to make the finest wines we can to share with you!

Where is Winter in the Napa Valley?

Last weekend, we participated in another family-style wine pairing and cooking class at one of our favorite restaurants, Rosso, in Santa Rosa. The theme was appropriate to the winter season; “Soups, Stocks and Stews”, imagining us all coming out on a wet and chilly Saturday morning into the kitchen to eat hearty winter fare. The home-made chicken noodle soup, warm beet soup and veal stock beef stew hit the mark with the selection of local Pinot Noir and Burgundies offered, and we all headed home ready to recreate the basics and warm our innards throughout the rest of the winter.
The only problem is that we haven’t had a winter! Sure, we have had below freezing cold spells, forcing us to cover our citrus and other delicate landscaping, temperatures in the teens and twenties which dropped all the leaves from the vines and convinced them to go dormant, but we have yet to receive over ½” of rain since October. The Napa Valley normal annual rainfall is somewhere around 36-40” (usually only occurring October through May), but last year we received only 5 inches making it the driest vintage on record. We appreciated the lack of rain last fall during harvest, allowing the 2013 vintage to ripen perfectly without the normal threat of showers and cool weather, but this has gone on far too long.

winter stream 2010The brittle, brown leaves from the vines and deciduous trees still line the roads and stream beds, waiting to be swept away by winter rains. (note the difference between the photos of our little stream bed last year and this!) Where there should be a stark clash of lush green clovers and yellow mustard between the vine rows against the dry, skeletal outline of the dormant vines, there is nothing but parched, gray soil . The cover crop seed, which was planted between the vine rows last fall to hold the soil during winter rains and rejuvenate the soil next spring, has sprouted and died off due to lack of rain. Irrigation ponds are all but dry, bringing fear to vineyard mangers who rely on full ponds for their irrigation during frost season in the spring, to protect the newly budding vines.

winter 2014We have even had warnings from the Forestry Department who put the Napa Valley on a high-fire alert – in January! Wells are drying up, unable to replenish their water supply without winter rains. The Sierra snow pack is less than 12% of normal; bring fears for municipal water supplies throughout the state that count on snow melt for their water needs each year. Lawns and landscaping are brown, as water rationing starts to go into effect.

No one is complaining about the high pressure system over the west coast, bringing us chilly mornings and lovely warm days into the high 60’s and low 70’s, especially in the wake of those negative temperatures and blizzards across the mid-west and east coast! We are able to BBQ and entertain out of doors and go about our days in shirt sleeves or a light jacket, as though it was almost spring. We dust off our shoes after walking the vineyards, instead of leaving our muddy boots out on the back porch. Even the chickens have started laying again, giving us half a dozen eggs a day.

But what we really need is rain, for all the farmers who depend on Mother Nature’s generosity to stock up this precious resource for the 2014 vintage and growing season. So, if anyone knows the steps to a traditional Rain Dance, please send them our way!

Fall in the Napa Valley

Yountville fallEvery year after harvest, we are blessed by an amazing show of fall colors in the valley. If we have received measurable early fall rains, there is a carpet of fine new grassy growth between the vines,  highlighting the dramatic difference between the bright new growth in the vine rows and the declining yellow leaves on the vines; one aspect just starting its cycle, the other ending theirs. If an early frost should set in, instead of the natural progression of leaves turning deep green to light green to yellow to brown, the leaves wither crisp and brown overnight, looking as though they have been hit with a dreaded disease.
DSC_0458The colors and contrasts of the vineyards are subtle yet brilliant at the same time, highlighting the barren, brown hills from the vibrant row designations, and each varietal and row direction changing color at its own pace.

But in years like this one, where the Indian summer has graced us with warm days and cool evenings and no rain or frost for over a month, there is a miraculous array of colors around every bend. Everything is in dazzling hues, as though enhanced by Photoshop and color corrected by Mother Nature.

DSC_0423The shades of green to yellow and orange to red are so subtle that some leaves seem to be tinted with all four colors at once. And the deep purple hue of the second crop Cabernet Sauvignon is a striking contrast to the yellowing leaves of late fall. It paints the kind of image for the eye that, if you put it on canvas, critics would say “But it is too dazzling – it doesn’t look natural”.

The work has shifted now from the vineyards to the wineries, and the vineyard crews are applying the last soil amendments and fertilizers before the rains set it. Tractors and harvesting equipment have been stored away in the barns and shops. There is an odd quiet in the vineyards now, which only a month ago were the source bustling activity.

DSC_0424So remember to put a visit to Wine Country in November on your calendar for next year so you can sample the new wines from the barrel as you watch an old vintage transpire.

New England fall colors, eat your heart out!

Rain, Rain Go Away

Friends and clients called with worried anticipation at the brief, but notable, rain storm that we experienced in the Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago. We received almost and inch of rain, much of it coming in a sudden downpour, and then the clouds cleared and the sun came out with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s for the rest of the week. If anything, it slowed the pace of harvest, first by slowing the maturation on the vine and foremost by dampening the ground to the point that tractors couldn’t get in to harvest for a day or two. Again, a week later, the tail end of a little storm clouded the skies and lightly misted the vines for 2 days, with clearing and a return to warm weather forecast for the next several weeks. It was not hurricane or blizzard worthy, but enough to scare wine lovers who know how precious wine grapes can be.
DSC_0020The 2013 vintage has been one of the best we’ve seen in years, producing perfectly mature grapes with wonderfully balanced flavors. All of the thin-skinned, tightly bunched varieties throughout the valley have already been picked. Our Sauvignon Blanc came in almost a month ago, (picked early in the morning under bright light bars) and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are by now all picked and fermenting in the tanks and barrels. Cabernet Sauvignon have lose bunches and thicker skins that can withstand some moisture and ward off any rot, and ripen much later in the season.

We have been keeping a close watch on the ripeness of our Cabernet, as the evenly warm and outstanding growing season of 2013 has brought sugar levels to near-perfect conditions several weeks earlier than average. Talking amongst our peers and driving up and down the valley, there is either the “Yeah, get it off. It’s ready!” theory (as seen in ½ of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards already picked), or the “They taste good and sugars are high, but they just don’t feel totally balanced – tannins still too high and still tasting a little immature.”

IMG_1233Our north-facing Herb Lamb Vineyards’ grapes are in the latter camp, and we started picking just the ripest rows last week, waiting a week or (weather permitting) more for much of the rest of the fruit to fully ripen. As soon as we get all our fruit picked and into the winery next week, only then will we do a little rain dance to celebrate – it’s OK, Mother Nature, soon you can let er’ rip!

Spring Bounty

DSC_0023If spring in Wine Country isn’t the best time of the year, I don’t know what is!!! The new buds and leaves on the vines are bursting with energy, maturing from soft pink to bright, neon green – flush with energy. The tiny bunches elongate and each berry bursts with energy in the sun, finally to flower and self-pollinate within a matter of days.
This is the the time to reap the harvest of our winter garden and replant the beds with summer veggies. Green garlic, spring onions, the first of the snow peas, the last of the chard, lettuce, spinach, and kale reward our table before the hot weather comes and they wilt in the sun. In California, especially, we have the added bonus of the Three A’s – artichokes, avocados and asparagus, which keeps us happy and healthy all spring long. Friends always generously drop off a crate of asparagus from their fields nearby in the Delta, which we gladly eat and share and then pickle for those inevitable Sunday morning Bloody Marys – it doesn’t get much better! While we plant our summer garden and await all the excitement that future plantings might reward, we relish the abundance of the spring vegetables planted months ago.

DSC_0064It’s also time for the first of a new blossoms and the last of the winter citrus. With our Mediterranean climate, we are able to grow a plethora of different varieties of citrus; dwarfs in pots (mostly Meyer lemons), commercial sized oranges and Mexican limes on the edge of the vineyards and others placed throughout the garden and hillside. We have over 24 citrus trees of 7 different varieties, and the juice and fruit keeps us happily in citrus for months at a time!

One of our most favorite recipes featuring citrus this time of year comes from our good friend, local chef and restauranteur Cindy Pawlcyn. With three fine restaurants in the Napa Valley; Mustard’s Grill, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar (where you will find our Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc by the glass), as well as her new Cafe and Cindy’s Waterfront Restaurant at The Monterey Bay Aquarium , she has all the credentials and experience as one of the finest fresh and sustainable food chefs in northern California. Enjoy this lovely Citrus Celebration Salad with the 2012 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Citrus Celebration Salad

Citrus season brings us blood oranges, mandarins, tangerines and more! So many wonderful citrus fruits to play with, I thought you’d like this simple salad. In Brazil a version of this is served with fejoada, the national dish. Try to use at least three different kinds of citrus; a sharp knife or serrated blade will help you make nice even circles.It’s a bright refreshing side to a roasted chicken dinner, great as a contrast to legumes like ham hocks and beans or lentil stew, black beans and rice, or with roasted pork. Enjoy!  – Cindy Pawlcyn


6 to 8 servings

6 of a selection of the above oranges peeled just beneath the membrane and sliced in 1/3″ thick slices (circles).
6 thin slices of red onion cut in rings and separated
6-8 lengthwise slices of avocado (optional)
6 or so mint leaves finely shredded
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
juice of one lime or Meyer lemon
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Arrange the orange slices (alternate variety) on an attractive platter as you would for a carpaccio, sprinkle with the mint, salt, pepper and olive oil. Place the avocado spears and the red onion rings on top, sprinkle with lime or lemon juice, and serve chilled.

 

 

 

 

Pruning Chronicles

Winter vineyards
Winters are pretty much quiet in the vineyards, very much like the dormant vines waiting for spring. As it’s impossible to get into the fields with a tractor because of the wet soil, only minimal activity, mostly involving manual labor, is done until the weather warms.

But when the truck with the port-a-potty arrives, we know there is a crew following close by and there will be work to do!

The first big job of the season, the one that really requires skilled laborers and knowledgeable managers, is the pruning. This is the first step to assure a balanced crop of just the right proportion for the vintage. Our crews pre-prune in February or early March, making sure the cordon (or arm) length is equal on both sides of the trunk and spaced correctly with the adjoining vine. They tie the cordons several times to the trellising wires and make sure the stakes and end posts are solid and can support the row of vines.

March Pruning

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the last varieties to bloom, set and ripen at harvest, so we have the luxury of waiting until just before bud-break to prune, usually mid-March, while the earlier ripening varieties may already have been pruned a month earlier and may even be budding out. The crew will cut off the 5-7 foot canes from last years’ growth right down to the main cordon, leaving only 2 buds on each spur or the knuckle-like growth from last year’s cane on the cordon. Here we try to equally balance the vine with corresponding buds and spurs (and growth) on either side of the main trunk to support the vine.

Like a massive hair-cut, the vines go from sprawling, leafless masses to neatly trimmed, skeletal structures overnight! The piles of canes are stacked at the ends of the rows, to be dealt with at a later date.

Shortly after the vines are pruned, the sap begins to flow and the vines  finally come to life after having slumbered all winter. Within weeks, as the weather warms and the daylight lengthens, tiny buds develop on each spur – sometimes called Q-Tips or popcorn in vineyard jargon – the beginnings of a new vintage.

Piles of Prunings

Each vineyard creates an awful lot of excess canes at pruning, which the industry used to just pile up and burn. To see the valley shrouded in smoke that hangs over us like a fog at pruning season is never a pretty site, so we were thrilled when our vineyard manager initiated a shredding program several years ago, and the huge pile of shredded canes that is created is used all year to mulch the vines, our landscaping and garden.

Spring has just arrived – the vines are neatly pruned and now budding out, the fruit trees have flowered and the soil is almost warm enough to plant our summer garden. Another season, another crop, and all we can try to do is farm the best we possibly can and hope that Mother Nature is on our side.

Let the vintage begin!

Vintage 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Spring in the Vineyards

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. As former beekeepers, we rushed outside at dawn – was it a swarm of bees landing on the deck?  But no, it was just the crew of vineyard workers with their noisy weed-eaters; another rite of passage in the vineyard in spring. A few days before, two vineyard workers had pushed huge lawn-mower-type weed whackers up and down the hillside rows, trying to knock down the 3 foot weed and cover-crop growth from the generous spring rains, and the present crew of guys was now doing the final mowing and cleaning up the tight rows where the bigger mower wouldn’t fit. Throughout the Napa Valley, where wildflowers have been planted between the vines, the weed-eaters always try to mow around them, leaving colorful swatches of flowers.

We always laugh when the port-a-potty gets towed into our vineyard, and is held in place by rocks at one of the few flat positions on our hillside property – a true sign of a vineyard crew coming to perform some magic. This week, it’s the suckering and shoot positioning of the newly emerging bushy vines. On each side of the vines’ trunk, the permanent arms are pruned early in the year to leave equally spaced spurs that will send out one or two shoots each. Each shoot may have one to two bunches of grapes and will grow to almost 6 feet long. But inevitably, all of the shoots are not strong enough to hold the fruit and become the basis for next year’s spurs, nor do they all have large bunches of grapes, so they are gently removed while the canes are still green, before they have lignified and taken on strength and form a bark.

 

We have set up 14 bird boxes, (actually, they were single bottle wooden wine boxes that a friend reconfigured with the specific proportions for these insect-loving birds) throughout the vineyard, and they all appear to be rented out. The colorful blue birds and tree swallows have filled them with nesting material and fly protectively around their dwellings, alternately swooping through the skies for insects and watching for intruders from their perch on top of the box. The first of the babies have hatched, creating a flurry of activity and dozens of daily trips to the nest. Hopefully they like the bad bugs that infect our vines as much as we enjoy watching them nest.

Our hillside vines were slow to bud out this year, but with the generous spring rains the vines have grown several feet since the tiny new leaves first appeared in early May, their tendrils reaching out and adding new leaves daily as they grow.

There is a mass of color against the light green of the vineyard, with pines and oaks on the hills surrounding us, where the wildflowers we planted several years ago have finally bloomed. Our strawberries, citrus and artichokes are giving fruit, the vegetable garden is planted with seeds sprouting in neat rows, and the first tomato blossoms have appeared. It’s going to be a wonderful vintage, for the birds, for us, and for our grapes!

Mud Room Chronicles

It’s always easy to guess what time of year it is just by looking at the collection of irrigation parts, seed packets and clothing piles in our back porch, or “mud room”. Last Saturday there were 2 pair of muddy boots outside the back porch on a step stool, and 2 pair of flip-flops, (the weather’s warming). Inside, one pair of muddy socks (serious leaks and irrigation repair) and one pair with green foxtails in the tops (a sure sign that the days are warming and the grasses are dying between the vine rows).
In the old tin bucket in the sink, dust rags and old towels filled with muddy hand prints and dog hair (new plantings in the garden and dog washing days) and some rags heavy with blue PVC pipe glue from irrigation fixes (see muddy boots and socks above) wait their turn for a bleach load in the washing machine. On the counter, the ripped and wrinkled tops of several seed packets,  pieces of green tie tape too short to use, broken PVC parts, dirty garden gloves and a muddy chart of which melon was planted in which mound confirms that the ground has warmed enough to start planting seeds for our summer garden.

Like a kid in a candy store, we purchased hundreds of dollars of heirloom varieties grown by locals at Forni Brown Nursery and spent days rototilling, composting the soil and planting our “Mortgage Lifter” and “Pineapple Stripe” tomatoes. But we get some of the tastiest (most loved and expensive) tomatoes on the planet!

Pushed onto the back of the counter are sacks of sugar, stacks of canning jars and baskets of citrus (Meyer lemons, Blood oranges, Mandarins and Mexican limes), recently picked from the trees and now patiently waiting to become marmalade . . . suddenly they’ve taken a back seat to the garden and emergency irrigation, or a farmer’s life of “making hay while the sun shines!” Perhaps next weekend they’ll become jam . . . or better yet a cocktail!

Like everyone across the country, the Napa Valley had a mild winter with days in the 60’s and 70’s with little rain, teasing us into believing that it might be a dry spring with an early bud break. But March and April turned cold and wet, and gratefully prolonged the dormant vine’s shoots from forming until after the killing frosts had done their damage. Suddenly (and I know it’s a cliché, but it actually happens!) “as if before our very eyes”, in the course of a week the weather warmed, the spring showers stopped and the gnarled vines turned their tiny pink buds into 6 inch shoots of new growth with baby grapes!

Our next big chore, coming soon, will be “thinning” the crop. Unlike fruit trees, where we pull off individual peaches or apples to control the amount of fruit hanging on each branch, on a grape vine we look for a naturally balanced number of grape bunches on each side of the trunk, and snip off the entire shoot (grapes and all) if the shoot is too small to form a larger cane for next years’ crop, if it’s badly positioned or if it doesn’t have any grape bunches at all. After days of selective thinning, the once bushy vines look like they’ve had their summer crew cut, and the vines now focus on sending all that teenage energy into just a fraction of the shoots and buds.

It’s a fantastic beginning of another cycle of grape growing; muddy boots, dirty dogs, blue glue and all!

Harvest Wrap-Up 2011

Basking in 75 degree temperatures at the end of October, with a warm breeze blowing the fall leaves throughout the vineyard, it’s hard to vividly remember the worrisome fog, rain and cool weather and the problems it brought us last summer.

Over 2 inches of rain in early June caused many of the flowering grapes to lose their set, thus reducing the volume of grapes on each vine . . . sometimes by as much as 60% in some hard-hit areas. The early morning fog lasted several hours into the day, and cooler weather persisted throughout the summer, lengthening the growing season by a month or more, as we all anxiously projected a late harvest and hoped that the winter rains would hold off until November.

Wineries and pickers found other work while waiting for the trickle, then the onslaught of grapes to ripen. We all foresaw a “train-wreck” scenario where the wineries would be full of this year’s later ripening white wine grapes that ferment in the tanks at a cooler temperature and thus stay longer in the tanks, when the red wine grapes would suddenly ripen and need the same fermentation tanks! Winemakers were also concerned with having to harvest grapes at lower maturity levels and degrees Brix (the natural sugar or sweetness in grapes that ferments into alcohol), producing leaner and more European-style wines unlike the full-bodied vintages that our California climate typically gives us. We tried to remind worried, youthful  winemakers and vintners that, “back in the good ol’ days” of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, wineries used to offer bonuses to growers for the sugar levels that you are worried about now, but they all chuckled and shook their heads!

Our Sauvignon Blanc was picked a month late, on September 26th, but at peak ripeness. The juice was given 24 hrs. of skin contact then pressed off the skins and into the fermentor with the yeast to start bubbling away. After almost 4 weeks of very cool temperature fermenting, the wine was finally dry (no residual sweetness) and racked off the lees (the sediment leftover from yeast cells and fermentation) and into smaller tanks to leave room for the influx of red grapes.

Just when the sun finally came out and temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s were ripening our Cabernet Sauvignon, we received another 2 ½ inches of rain in early October. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem to the thick-skinned Cabernet, but humid conditions persisted and many of us started to notice what is commonly this year being called “The Fuzzies”. Several types of mold and rot developed randomly overnight in many vineyards, ours included, thus pulling the plug on the hopes of leaving grapes to hang and further mature on the vine.

We harvested the Two Old Dogs and the HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon back-to-back within 4 days of each other, picking selectively to salvage the ripe berries before the mold could continue to grow. With judicious sorting, we were able to bring in just a little less than normal tonnage and better-than-hoped for quality, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Now, two weeks later, the Cabernets are finishing fermenting and will soon be be racked into their new French oak barrels – or homes for the next 1 ½ years.

Throughout the Napa Valley, almost all the grapes are now off the vines and an air of calmness (read exhaustion) prevails . . . time to put all the fears and worries – real or imagined – of the 2011 vintage to bed!

Leaves at Harvest


This was going to be exciting and different – picking Sauvignon Blanc under lights in the middle of the night! Although night time harvests, with their spot lights lighting the sky as though it was a local football game, have been used in the Napa Valley for many years, we have never been part of a night-time picking.

Normally we would show up with the vineyard manager and picking crew at dawn and wait until our eyes adjusted to the fuzzy light, then pick away! But with the need to get all 8 tons of Sauvignon Blanc grapes picked as quickly, (and as chilled), as possible, with only a crew of 16, it was a necessity to start early. The crew arrives at 4:00 am, and quickly take their places in the vineyard, filling half-ton bins with chilly night-time grapes under the glare of the massive overhead lights.

We follow the blinding lights to the end of the row, where each picker uses their headlamps to adjust to the band of grapes on the vines. Our forte is “leaves” – or the removal there of. First we start several vines in front of the line of pickers and sweep our hands down the canes and around the bunches to remove leaves from the picking area, so that the guys can reach right into the fruit zone and pick cleanly (no leaves), dropping the ripe bunches into the pans beneath them on the vineyard floor.

Clip, clip, thump, clip, thump, goes the noise, with an occasional hoot or shout or song from the pickers. Then they all run with their full pans to the half-ton bins being pulled slowly behind the tractor in the next row and toss the fruit in. It’s now our turn again to quickly pick out and remove any leaves and over-ripe fruit from the bigger bins behind the tractor. Scooting under the vines and back to their place on the row, the pickers start again, and continue for 6 hours until all the bins are full and the requisite tonnage agreed upon in our contract is weighed and loaded safely on the truck, bound for the winery.

The sun streams through the vines and the lights are shut off. In the distance, a flock of hot air balloons is taking off, and all that can be heard is the hiss of their heaters. The bins are full and loaded onto the truck, headed to the winery, and the vine rows are eerily silent when the crews depart and are filled with nothing but leaves!

It’s been a long but successful day, and the torch for the responsibility of the newly picked grapes is happily passed from the vineyard manager to the winemaker.

At the winery, our job is once again “leaves”. The bins are dumped into a 20 foot conveyor that slowly moves the grapes up to a crusher/stemmer. But on the way, the MOG (Matter Other than Grapes – read “leaves”) needs to be removed. We line up on both sides to sort through the cool grapes until our fingers feel frozen with the sweet sticky juice, trying to move the bunches around quickly as they travel up and out of reach, and remove anything doesn’t look like it should be included in fine wine – tie tape, branches, over or under ripened bunches, and leaves! If it’s not a grape, it doesn’t go onto the tank!

We will return with the winemaker to the winery tomorrow, after the grapes have chilled on

their skins in the tank overnight, when they will be removed and pressed off and the juice will return to the tank to begin its fermentation into wine. But until then, we will dream of the sweet smells of freshly harvested Sauvignon Blanc, and picture vines, without grapes – or leaves!