On an early Foggy morning in Santa Barbara, we were able to film our first Harvest experience at Clos Pepe Winery. We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. We contacted Morgen, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, to help in our search. She guided us to Clos Pepe Winery who was harvesting a small block of Pinot Noir for a Sparkling Wine project for Flying Goat Cellars. See a little of our adventure in the early morning fog in the video.
We pulled up in the dark in front of Clos Pepe. I texted Morgen, “the gate says no trespassing. Should we go in?” “Yes, by all means,” she texted, “I’ll be there soon.” Morgen is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, and she had sent me a message the day before. We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. It seemed the Sav Blanc in Happy Canyon was already being harvested, and everything else was holding until after Labor Day. Morgen had been able to find something and sent a message saying to meet her at 5:45 a.m. at Clos Pepe to harvest for a little sparkling project they were working on.
We pulled through the gates, parked by the house, and waited for Morgen. Michael headed down to get some photos, trying to stay out of the way. When Morgen arrived, she asked if I was going to pick. This took me a little off guard, I would be happy to, I said, but I had never picked before and didn’t want to be in the way or slow things down. Nonsense, she said and guided me down to meet Wes Hagen the winemaker at Clos Pepe. Wes proceeded without hesitation to hand Morgen and I gloves, clippers, a headlamp, and a bucket and briefed us on how to harvest.
We were harvesting early in the day, beginning in the dark. This has multiple benefits 1st it’s cooler, which makes those picking happier and the grapes happier. The grapes will be cooler and firmer, and the sugar levels will be lower and more stable.
It was late August, just the beginning of harvest season. We were harvesting Pinot Noir. This pinot was at about 20 brix, so lower than a typical Pinot harvest because this Pinot was headed for a sparkling wine project for Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.
In harvesting, we were looking for full ripe bunches, but in this harvest, we were not skipping unripe fruit. Any green or pink berries could be knocked off, or if the bunch was too green, it could simply be dropped. The idea was to pick the row clean, leaving no fruit behind. We were also looking for botrytis. Botrytis cinerea, known as botrytis bunch, rot by those in the vineyard, but others in horticulture call it gray mold. This comes in 2 forms: “Grey rot,” which is the result of consistent wet or humid conditions, and “noble rot,” which is when wet conditions are followed by dry. Noble rot can create beautiful dessert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes. Any botrytis that we found was to be pulled out or dropped.
The harvest team we were on was only setting out to harvest 3 rows of Pinot Noir. We were hand-picking and only looking for around 4 bins of grapes for this sparkling project. Each of the bins were half ton so we were looking for about 2 tons. Our team was about 15 people, and we finished 2 rows in about 2 hours. It was a good harvest; most of the bunches were evenly ripened, and 2 rows filled the 4 bins.
As we picked, we made sure to keep our buckets free of MOG (material other than grapes). Also, the clippers should never hang on the side of the bucket. If the clippers fall in, they could end up in the bin and then in the crusher, which could ruin a very expensive piece of equipment.
We clipped away, first finding the bunches in the light of our headlamps, then turning the headlamps in as the sun rose to light the vines for us. The early morning fog misted our hair, and the drip irrigation dripped on our knees as we tucked in to find the ripe berries. I worked what Wes refers to as “my agricultural muscles”. As I tried to fill my orange bucket, I would periodically turn to find it empty again, as the bucket guys stealthily emptied it without my even knowing. There was little that was green and only bits of botrytis that I came across. These were firm, tight bunches sometimes; they were wrapped around the vines or wires, making it difficult to free them, but all in all, it was beautiful fruit.
We worked the rows following the tracker that was hauling the bins. As the sun came up, the large lights on the top of the tracker were turned off. Two people rode on the sides of the bins, doing a second sort for MOG and Botrytis as the buckets were dumped in.
By the time we reached the end of the row, the bins were full, and the sun was up. We walked back down the rows, checking for any missed fruit. It was my first harvest, and while it was only 2 hours and 2 rows, I could not have asked for a better place. What could be better than picking Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills on a gorgeous morning in late August? Thank you, Wes and Clos Pepe, for an amazing experience.
Remember, “Every grape wants to make wine”