This 2014 vintage is my first harvest with Small Vines Wines, and as an assistant to two very knowledgeable and friendly owners, Paul and Kathryn Sloan, I have had the opportunity to experience and be exposed to every aspect of the harvest process; sampling, planning, picking, harvesting, sorting and repeat. Many people have heard horror stories of zombie-like winemakers and grape growers going through the crush process, but few people are able to see some of the behind-the-scenes of what goes into each and every bottle of wine.
It all begins here, when the grapes transform colors from green to purple, this is the beginning signs of veraison, the onset of ripening, and an indicator that the crush is approaching. At this time, we begin to count clusters, sample grapes, drop fruit and analyze. I am lucky enough to have two very knowledgeable and helpful sidekicks, Dakota and Savannah Sloan, who have more experience than me at the ages of 11 and 8 respectfully. This sampling process happens more frequently as we approach our estimated picking dates.
On any typical day during harvest, you can find me up and on the road before the first sign of the sun peaking over the Mayacama Hills to the east of Santa Rosa. When collecting samples, it’s ideal to sample in the early morning when the grapes are cool, which will give an accurate representation to when we pick, as we hand harvest our grapes in the middle of the night. While out sampling, It is essential to always have with me a pack of gallon size zip-lock bags, a pair of pruning sheers, a black sharpie, some water, an ice chest to keep the samples cool and of course my cell phone with GPS accurate directions and vineyard maps to identify our vineyards and differentiate the clones.
These days begin to blur and become a routine of traveling from vineyard to vineyard and walking row by row. In order to get a varied sample with an accurate reading of degrees brix (sugar levels) and taste profile, you must collect grapes from all areas of a vineyard. No skipping out or shortcuts here whatsoever. This is an extremely crucial task during harvest as these are the numbers we schedule our picking around. After we read the degrees brix from the samples, we taste and analyze. Wine is a mix between art and science, and with Small Vines Wines we incorporate both to create some of the best wines in the area.
Being in the wine industry, you look forward to the long hours of fall as the leaves change colors and the grapes turn to wine, but every year is different. This year being a rarity of record early picks in such a condensed and short amount of time it has been a lot of work, but it all pays off when you taste that fresh Pinot Noir or Chardonnay juice turning into wine- this is what we live for.