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Ross Halleck
September 21, 2015 | Ross Halleck

The Pick, 2015 :(

Harvest is over! Yea!!!

Well... not "SO- Yea". It was a harsh year crop-wise. 

Last night at 8:00 pm, following a day of unprecedented heat, a crew of 7 men arrived after darkness descended on Halleck Vineyard. The intent was to pick the grapes chilled in the fog. 

But the fog never arrived, so the grapes were warm. It was a scorching day in Sebastopol; it reached 106 degrees. It's hard to believe. Especially when the low was 48 degrees!! Almost 60 degrees in variation in a single day.

By 8:00 it was probably in the 80s. Quite warm to be picking in the night. It was surreal being in a warm vineyard with head lamps bobbing in the quiet of darkness. No one spoke. The mood was somber.

Earlier in the afternoon, I went out to walk Franki at 5:00, still scorching, but waning. To my utter surprise, before we could leave the property, Franki sprinted full blast into the vineyard. He pierced under the bird nets, darting below the 10,000 volt electrical wires installed around every row to ward off the raccoons. Franki knows about those wires. He was a dog on a mission.

In a split second, over a hundred quail were swarming within the nets, capped from above and surrounded all around. And Franki was chasing every bird. I thought it would be a blood bath. I had no idea how they got in, as the vineyard is totally tented to protect from starlings, turkeys and quail. But they were in, and struggling to avoid the intrepid efforts of Franki, our VERY fast Basenji.

But then they were gone. It was like a magic trick. Franki had not caught a single bird. And the vineyard was empty. And I looked at the center of the vineyard and saw every cluster plucked to the skeleton.

So I walked around the perimeter to figure it out. The day prior, the vineyard manager and his colleague had been there to inspect the crop prior to pick. They had walked up and down the rows and inadvertently failed to seal the vineyard at several spots of entrance and egress. Further, some of the netting over the top of the vineyard had been breached. Perhaps it was the frantic birds tearing through; perhaps it was oversight. But the damage was done and the sources obvious. We lost a significant percentage of the crop just hours before the pick. 

When the crew arrived, I walked around the vineyard with our manager and pointed the points of avian entry. He just shook his head. 

Men worked and worked and worked. It was almost midnight when I got a knock on the door that they were finished. Given the time, I'd hoped against hope that it meant that grapes were discovered in parts I hadn't seen. But when the crop is lean, it takes longer to select and cut the clusters than when the crop is full. After over 3 hours of work, we were left with less than one bin full. 

I had dinner prepared for the crew on the back deck: a selection of personally made sandwiches, water, cut melon, and a variety of hot sauces. We sat quietly, discussing what we can do next year to avoid this year's misfortune. By midnight, they were off to grab a few hours sleep before their next job at 4:00 am. 

This morning, I was driving an almost empty 16-foot truck to the winery. I had 3 empty bins and one almost-full. The weight told it all. In a half ton bin, I was holding 630 pounds of grapes. They were delicious, to be sure. But I had an ill feeling all morning. To top it off, I took pictures and videos during the night to include in this blog and all were black.

Our decision whether to make the small harvest into wine or blend it into our Three Sons or Hillside Cuvees concerned me. The grapes will only fill a half barrel with wine; but we've decided to do so. The fruit is luscious. It will be a tiny 2015 release. The story will be retold during every bottle shared.

That's the reason for a vintage; it's oral history.


Gantz Family Vineyards's Gravatar
Gantz Family Vineyards
@ Sep 24, 2015 at 11:03 AM
Aw man, we're so sorry to read this. What a heartbreaking story. Thanks for sharing it with us. It's so easy to go on and on about the great things about this business. But to talk about the realities takes courage. Thanks for that.

Mark's Gravatar
@ Oct 3, 2015 at 1:24 PM
Tragic account Ross, But as always, an honest, introspective, entertaining and informative 'short story' of the trials and tribulations of a day in the life of a farmer/vintner. Living in the vicinity, I was wondering if you had picked yet on those crazy back to back scorching days. Sounds like it was a learning experience though - even if it was delivered via a crappy 'lesson plan'.

Virginia's Gravatar
@ May 14, 2017 at 11:54 PM

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@ Sep 26, 2017 at 11:32 PM
Further, some of the netting over the top of the vineyard had been breached. Perhaps it was the frantic birds tearing through; perhaps it was oversight.

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