Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

September 2, 2017

Written by Ken Wornick

Backed by 20+ vintages and many dozens of wines produced, Ken is a Sonoma-based wine consultant and founder of Sonocaia Estate Vineyeards, Dysfunctional Family Winery and Hydeout Sonoma.

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A pictorial essay of Hydeout Consulting’s first nighttime harvest for 2017

Below is a pictorial essay following a nighttime harvest of Pinot Noir from our arrival on-site at the vineyard through to delivery at the winery. Hydeout Consulting directed the management of this vineyard throughout the season, and delivered the fruit per our client’s specs to the winery…

10:00pm – arriving on site, truck headlights shining on some Pinot Noir that will be picked tonight:

Night harvest 14 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

10:30pm – tailgate safety briefing with the foreman and picking crew, 6 men, 4 women; lots of dangerous heavy equipment, tractors, half-ton fruit bins, pruners, etc, thus safety is always first so no gets hurt, plus we discuss keeping all MOG (material other than grapes) out of the white half ton bins, imagine the damage just one rock would do the winery destemmer:

Night harvest 13 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

11:00pm – part of the crew begins removing bird nets, others begin picking into 40 pound lugs, while the tractor driver leads with the trailer and two empty half ton bins:

Night harvest 11 e1504211229895 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

12:30pm – we loose track of time as the racket of the tractor engine and machinery drowns out the eerie and still night silence, and the harvest lights utterly block out the incredible starry sky; nighttime harvests are like being in a bubble or on a submarine, senses are dulled and focus is concentrated on the task at hand, temperatures start to drop rather quickly, from 93F that day, down to mid-60F’s just after midnight:

Night harvest – video

2:20am – full bins get one last careful look over to remove green leaves, then get trucked over to the loading pad, we want to deliver only pristine fruit to the winery:

Night harvest 9 e1504211426347 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

3:00am – an image of Pinot Noir clusters about to be picked, and the temperature has now dropped to a cool 55F:

Night harvest 10 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

4:45am – as the sun barely starts to show it’s glow, and Venus hangs low in the east, the temperature drops rapidly to a very chilly 48F; everyone, but especially the pickers, are close to exhaustion, and maybe a little giddy too, hot cocoa and chocolate is passed around as we ready for the final push:

Night harvest 7 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

6:39am – sunrise, the darkness quickly recedes, the temperature begins to rise, and the tractor gets a rest too, 1/2 ton bins are almost done being loaded onto the flatbed truck:

Night harvest 5 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

7:15am – and the cool fog (in the background) begins to retreat west, the trucks are fully loaded, on this truck are 8 half-ton bins, or about 4 tons net weight of gorgeous Bennett Valley 2017 Pinot Noir, now headed to the winery:

Night harvest 6 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

8:10am – the fruit has been trucked to the winery, offloaded, officially weighed in, and is headed for the destemmer and then the fermentation tank, although about 20% of this fruit will be whole-cluster fermented directly into the tank:

Night harvest 3 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

9:20am – the winery tanks are prepped, cleaned, and ready; pumps are staged, and argon gas and frozen CO2 is at the ready:

Night harvest 1 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

9:35am – out on the loading dock, yours truly, Ken Wornick from Hydeout Consulting (in the black beanie), Jordan Kivelstadt (blue shirt and glasses), owner of the Kivelstadt wine brand, and Sam Baron (SF hat), Kivelstadt operations manager; as we all three celebrate the end of my long night, and the beginning of their long day; in the background are empty bins being loaded on the flat bed truck for the next night’s harvest:

Night harvest 2 - Nighttime grape harvest in Sonoma

Growing grapes and making wine really puts you in close contact with the seasons, the hot sun, and the cool night air, and each vintage leaves unique and lasting memories. Life is short and every moment is worth cherishing. Easier said than done. Farming forces you to do the work when the work must be done. In some respects, not having a choice is a pleasure in itself. And so it goes on the long road to the Thanksgiving holiday out there in late November…

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  1. Martha Geller

    WOW!!! Beautiful, thank you for sharing. When can we get a taste of the labor?

    • Ken Wornick

      Marta –
      Thank you for subscribing. You were the ONLY one in the QF. Hah. Hope you enjoy the weekly updates. Love, Ken


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