The glory days of Summer are coming to a crashing halt in Sonoma. Evening sneaks up at a delightfully early hour and lets me sneak into the warm comfort of misshapen sweatpants and sweaters that deserve a decent burial.

Something perks up as the temperatures dip down: Harvest. That magical time of year when wine growers from Washington State to Baja California can be heard tearing their hair out in unison as grapevines do whatever it is they feel like doing until that pivotal moment of perfection. Grape ripeness.

The sense of relief as grapes reach ripeness and the vines are relieved of their duty is palpable.  I swear the vines celebrate every bit as much as parents when school starts. “Get them AWAY FROM ME.”

I know, you were promised harvest stuff. So here we go.

The grapes are coming in at Balo Vineyards. Fortunately, I have friends in grapey places. Everyone, meet Wes.

Crangle - Balo - 20170921-16
Jolly looking, isn’t he?

Wes invited me up to sort grapes and play in the mess of harvest and crush. Who says no to that? Especially when the winemaker is local legend Alex Crangle.

A short road trip later, I find myself on a sunny crush pad in Anderson Valley. The grapes have arrived, and Alex is unloading the grapes from the truck. Wanna know important solid forklift skills can be?

So slick.

Rather than write a Trotsky style novel for you to read through, here’s slideshow of what “hand sorting grapes” actually looks like. It’s sticky and, if you value the condition of your nails (I don’t), please wear gloves.

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Alex pulls a bin of grapes to be sorted and loads into onto the sorting table. All hands on deck pick through the clusters. Too ripe? Too green? Leaves, rocks, bugs? All gone.

You’ll notice that after the lovely “we’re picking through grapes” images, there is an escalator lift. At the top of the lift, the bunches may go into a bin as whole clusters (whole cluster fermentation) or they may be removed from their stems immediately. The machine with the red paddles is a destemmer. Taking a picture of it in action is hazardous to your health at best. It gently removes the grapes from the stems. And it’s hilariously difficult to clean.

The white pellets in the container of sorted grapes? That’s dry ice. A two fold tool that keeps the grapes cool while putting off a layer of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen and thus protects the grapes from the potentially harmful air around them.

So there you have it. Hand sorting grapes in Anderson Valley.

WtF out.


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