Friday, September 24, 2010

What a Grape Day!

By all accounts, the grape harvest in Northern California is several weeks behind schedule. But at last, the harvest has finally begun. Early in the summer, Larry starting asked the winemakers at La Honda Winery if they allowed volunteers to help with winemaking; he wants to learn more about the process. They said they could always use help during the harvest season, especially with "sorting" the grapes.

Last weekend was the designated date for him to volunteer. La Honda was open for their monthly tasting day on Saturday and expected to receive a shipment of grapes in the late afternoon. Our plan was to go for tasting, Larry and our friends Claudia and Jeff would stay to help and I would hang around just long enough to take a few photos.

The grapes arrived later than expected, around 5pm after the winery had closed. Meanwhile, Larry scrubbed and prepared equipment. The vineyard owner and her crew had started picking at dawn and drove the two tons of syrah grapes from Lake County in a pickup trip with a trailer attached. After delivery, they still had to drive back that night.

I was dressed in “social,” not work clothes, since I was only taking photos. Colin, the assistant winemaker weighed the grapes then began pouring them into the de-stemming machine. Suddenly, there was a stream of purple cascading down the chute. Larry, Claudia and Jeff were supposed to quickly remove any remaining stems and green grapes as they tumbled by. WHOA!

When I saw how many stems they were missing, I couldn’t just stand there any longer. I jumped into the fray and began grabbing stems. I didn’t mean to stay beyond the first bin. It was back-breaking, messy work. But we developed a rhythm, all working together, and four hours later we had processed all two tons of grapes.

Claudia and I departed, exhausted from the sorting. Larry and Jeff stayed to help Colin transfer all those grapes into the tank for fermentation. Larry didn’t get home until 11:30, tired, but happy. The head winemaker emailed the next day to thank us for our help and to let us know that the fermentation process looked perfect so far. Who knows, maybe we’ll go back and help again sometime. If I do, I'll make sure to wear work clothes and comfortable shoes!


  1. What a fun day! I know the harvest down here is behind schedule as well. My husband and I visited the area a few weeks ago and the vines were plump with beautiful grapes. I"ve always wanted to participate in one of these events as well!

  2. who knew there was so much work in making wine! Those grapes are beautiful, thanks for sharing those great images with us!

  3. Making wine does end up being backbreaking and sweat inducing and I only make it small batches!!!

    Volunteering to help wineries during harvest is a must do for anyone who loves wine. You'll love it so much more after you do.

    Thanks for sharing your adventure.