Sonoma Harvest 2018 – Part 1 “The Night”

September 30, 2018

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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Here is your Sunday Morning just before brunch wine podcast. While you were sleeping, Sonoma Valley was hard at work harvesting wine grapes at night.

You might ask, “hey Ken, what’s it like to prepare for a night harvest?” I’ll tell you…Are the grapes ready?, where is that lab report?, where are the lugs and bins?, get the tractor over here asap, tell Don Tacho to grab more diesel fuel, make sure we have the crew ready to go…oh no, the bin trailer broke down!, get the welder on the phone, and how late is Sonoma Market open for burritos? These are some of the features of getting ready for the nighttime harvest…


Do you love that cool-climate Pinot? Maybe that spicy Syrah or that dark inky GSM blend? To make these wines, the grapes must arrive at the winery very chilled. Warm grapes will begin to ferment almost immediately. Start picking at 7:00am, and the grapes will be 85 degrees by mid-afternoon. And that’s how bad flavors can arise – like vinegar (acetobacter) and nail polish (acetone). So picking at night assures the grapes will arrive at the winery in mint condition.

Many vineyards are too large to be picked in a few hours. So we must start a few hours after dusk in order to get all the grapes picked, loaded, and delivered by the early morning. Whether the vineyard is large or small, wineries (and winemakers, like me) prefer that fruit arrives at daybreak – so that we have the early morning to calmly process the fruit and move it into fermentation tanks. And then run the labs: brix (sugar), pH (logarithmic scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution), TA (total acidity), etc.


If you have not fallen back asleep yet, terrific. Here are a series of short (and hopefully dramatic) videos documenting one of our recent September 2018 night harvests:

Its a few hours after sunset, the cool fog has rolled in, and we are underway…

video: foggy harvest

Now it’s pitch-black outside, and picking continues using headlamps…

video: closeup of señora Marta picking

Heavy lugs filled with 40 pounds of hand-picked fruit are laboriously carried to the half-ton bins which are being towed behind the tractor lights…

video: two lugs delivered

Highly experienced grape picker Señor Claudio keeps his AM radio going to Oaxacan La Banda music all night long. Claudio has many loving nicknames, my favorite is “El Maquina” (the machine) mostly because rain or shine, hot or cold, he never ever wears a hat or jacket. Believe me, we have offered, begged, cajoled, but he insists…

video: Señor Claudio and his am radio

The tractor pulling the half-ton bins provides bright light in the work area. But it’s an odd sight when you step just a few away…

video: the weird world under the lights


As the night fades away and the sun begins to rise, it’s time to count up the 1/2-ton bins and get staged to load onto the flatbed truck and get the fruit to the winery…

video: counting the bins at the end

And that’s how a night harvest goes!

Coming in the next blog post: Sonoma Harvest 2018 Part 2 “The Day”


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  1. K2

    Hopefully a “Lucky & TASTY 13!” Thanks for providing a view into this part of the wine world.


  2. Anita Wornick

    Great Ken
    You have a real writing talent.

  3. Bobby Locke

    Great descriptions! I love the videos!

  4. Kurt Baumberger

    Senora Marta is also a machine! What an impressive process.

    Hope all is well Ken!

  5. Lolly

    Thank you for sharing!! A wonderful and nice night!!! can’t wait for a taste.




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