October 21, 2006
Location: 3785 Burnside Road, Sebastopol, CA 707-829-7926
The morning was crystalline, offering views of the ocean from the top of our drive. Walking down to the vineyard, Mt. St. Helena, to the north, was alive in the horizon. The temperatures were comfortable, hovering in the 70s, with low humidity and a comfortable breeze. We hosted over 70 people this year, our largest turnout ever, including many local teenagers and friends of my boys.
Most came from the Bay Area with some very notable exceptions. My friend Ana, who I met with Quinn in Honduras this summer, flew in from Lima, Peru specifically for the harvest. Although we have had visitors from Europe, Japan, and all parts of the US, this was a distance record. Ana enlisted a host of other guests from Peru. Her friend Paola flew in from Chicago to join her, but booked for a week earlier due to our expectation of picking on the 14th. Garnet, my friend from Denver, also made the same choice, so we began our harvest celebrating a week early.
Other new friends, Juan, Alejandro and Marta, also joined us from Peru, driving from Oakland and Yuba City, arriving late for the harvest, but early enough to continue the party though dinner. Angelika joined us from Russia and another gentleman represented the Middle East. The international flavor of previous years was evident. A number of our neighbors joined us, adding local color. Margo was again a big help, as was Kristee, who took command of the kitchen. Ted Cooper, a long time friend and colleague joined our ranks again, as did Mike Mulke, who continues to bring his kids who are both great workers. Carol Ann came for a another year, as did Ruth and Warren with their kids. Steve was there for his fourth time, and Tony graced us with energetic stories. It was nice to see Kitty and Tom, who were at our very first harvest in 1999. Susan, my worldly Canadian friend, graced us for a first harvest after many years of failed attempts. My dearest friend, Rich, arrived late, but joined the dinner contingent and was a great help in clearing the decks and providing moral support as energy waned. As the years progress, more and more familiar faces are returning, enhancing and building the community. It was fun to see Lynn talking with Diane in line for lunch; I interrupted to alert them, unbeknownst to either, that they would be both traveling to Italy with us in February. (BTW, we may have a bit more room to Italy in February, if you are interested.)
Jennifer prepared her now-famous banana bread and cookies with coffee and juice for the early crowd.
The pick proceeded with the numbering of the rows, hauling out the buckets, dropping the bird netting on each row, handing out pruning shears and assigning rows for harvest-watch. People “kibitzed” amongst the vines, making new friends and re-uniting with old ones. The effort went smoothly and swiftly with energetic spirit. We cleared the vineyard in an hour and a half. Many were disappointed that it went so quickly.
There were no reported bee stings or pruning shears’ injuries this year.
The quick work was an indication of a lean harvest, but certainly not the smallest in the vineyard’s short life. There was just under a ton this year, perhaps enough for about 50 cases of wine. But after the harvest last year of under-200 pounds, we were thrilled to have it.
Many people have asked why we lost our crop last year. This poses an interesting question, as one should have an answer for such a dramatic outcome of events. The truth is that there are theories, but no concrete answers. Charlie Chenoweth, our new vineyard manager, describes our situation as a result of early rains and a very cool season. Without the heat of “normal” years, the early rains caused the roots to shoot out tendrils of growth into the moist soil. As the soil never warmed up and dried fully, small amounts of the roots rotted, creating ammonia. This ammonia was taken up by the plant and into the fruit, causing the grapes to rot. The net take-away was that there was little that we could have done, even if we knew what was happening. Such is agriculture.
We were finished picking and cleaning of the equipment by 11, giving us ample time to drive the fruit to the winery prior to lunch. Our group created an impressive caravan to the winery. Over fifteen cars, trucks and vans, all full of adults, trailed behind my rented flatbed. It was loaded with half-ton bins traveling at sub-30 miles per hour for 20 minutes, while we wove our way through the serpentine country roads that dissect the environs of Sebastopol.
John Tracy, owner of Owl Ridge Wine Services, greeted us at the winery. This season, a wall of grapes hit the winery, as the extended season brought on rapid ripening. Frankly, they were not prepared, as they have grown so much in the past year with new brands employing the facility. So our hopes of actually seeing and participating in the crushing of our fruit were not to be realized. But John did give us an upfront and personal tour of the facility. We were able to witness a mass effort underway, processing grapes coming in from all over Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.
After delivering the fruit and taking a brief tour of the winery, we returned to a meal of barbecued leg of lamb, pesto penne, and a selection of salads complemented by a taste of our precious Halleck Vineyard 2004 Estate Pinot noir on the deck. With our whistles whetted, we proceeded on to our 2005 vintages of Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc, Three Sons Cuvee Pinot and our two other vineyard designated Pinot noirs, Hallberg and The Farm.
As a backdrop to our lunch, the clear day offered an expansive view of the rolling Sonoma County hills making their way down to the Santa Rosa basin and into the Mayacamas, crowned by towering Mount St. Helena in the distance. The tables were each decorated with flowers and greenery from the garden, artistically arranged by my Peruvian (Peruana) friend, Ana.
As the party began to die down in the late afternoon, we got another infusion of energy from Rich and the Peruvian (Peruana) crowd. This carried us all to delicious dinner at Stellas and warm goodbyes in the darkness of a crisp Sebastopol night.
I invite you all to try Halleck Vineyard 2005 wines. And feel free to schedule a time to taste the 2006 wines in barrel. 2006 promises to be our best vintage ever, but the 2005s are also screamin’. I am happy to take people in for tastings at the winery, with enough notice.
Thanks so much for your ongoing support and interest.
In humble appreciation,
Ross and Jennifer
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