Working the Grape Harvest
I arrived at Jericho Canyon Vineyards bright and early on a Saturday during the harvest to participate in vineyard boot camp. Participating in this year’s harvest seemed like an appropriate way to mark the culmination of the growing cycle while adding to my understanding of the wine-making process in a hands-on way. After a quick cup of coffee, pastry, and a briefing on picking grapes, we were off to the vineyards.
The sun shone over the vineyards as we trudged up the hill to begin our assignment of picking Block 16 Merlot grapes. The leaves on the vines were beginning to change colors in contrast with the dark purple grapes like a scene from a postcard. It was with some difficulty that I roused myself from reverie, with the mission to harvest grapes.
After getting a plastic lug, we chose a row and began picking grapes. There is a technique to efficiently harvesting grapes, and our amateur group moved slowly compared with professional crews. We emptied the lugs into a large container on the tractor, only to fill them again and again. Eventually we settled into a groove as we picked, filled, and emptied containers of grapes.
To keep up our morale, we were well-fed. We began the morning with breakfast, coffee, and juice. Lunch was held in the picnic grove, where we made our own custom thin-crust pizza baked in the outdoor pizza oven. The exertion in the vineyard fueled our appetites, and we savored our gourmet pizza paired with Jericho Canyon 2010 Chardonnay and 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. And we were given our choice of brand-new logo T-shirts, which we donned with pride.
Our next task was to process the grapes coming in from the vineyards. We were stationed on both sides of the conveyor to de-stem the grapes. Our job was to remove leaves and other objects that don’t add to the flavor of wine. As the grapes were poured into the conveyor, we had to work quickly to keep up with the steady flow. After the grapes passed through the de-stemming machine, the whole berries were pumped into a fermentation tank beginning the alchemy into wine.
We were spelled off at regular intervals to participate in punch-downs of the berries in the small batch tanks, which needed to maintain contact with the juice and has to be done several times each day. We also learned about the pump-over process and tried to stay out of the way of the busy production staff.
At the end of processing 2.2 tons of grapes, we were happy to retire to the Bleecher family home above the vineyard for our celebratory dinner. We arrived in time to view the sun setting over the valley while we sipped a glass of well-deserved wine.
We experienced gracious hospitality with a sit-down dinner for nearly 20 people. While this intimate group was made up mostly of wine club members, it felt more like a family dinner. The Bleechers served Jericho Canyon wine from their personal cellar including 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Creek Block, and 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our group sat down to enjoy a feast of garden-harvested tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil; green salad with cranberries; grilled potatoes with arugula; salmon; and grilled beef. After numerous toasts to our hosts, we savored the delicious meal and enjoyed conversations with our dinner companions. I know that I was not alone in gaining a new-found appreciation for the labor and love that goes into crafting a bottle of wine.
Details: Jericho Canyon Vineyard offers tours and tasting by appointment daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm. One of the many benefits of wine club membership is being able to participate in exclusive winery events, such as this vineyard boot camp. Jericho Canyon is located at 3322 Old Lawley Toll Road, Calistoga, CA 94515, telephone 1-707-331-9076 or visit their website. Jericho Canyon makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, a red blend, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.