Fog lifting on an early morning at Nuns Canyon Vineyard in the Moon Mountain District
Maybe its because I’m only up here for a couple of weeks a year, or maybe its because those couple weeks are always during harvest, but there is a spirit and energy in the air that doesn’t have the same affect as life in Los Angeles, or any big city I’ve been to for that matter. The call always comes in last minute. I’ll get a text that says something like, “Ready to come up?” or “The sugars are getting up there.” Sure, by now I know the call will be coming any day as summer comes to a close, but in Los Angeles we only know that its happening because of the dates on the calendar. Unlike most of the country, the weather is a very poor indicator of anything. Once you get outside of the city this time of year, the children are back in school and the roads have quieted down of families on summer road trips. That exciting feeling of just being behind the wheel on the open road is incomparable to almost anything else I can think of or at the very least, say in mixed company. It takes about an hour to get out of the city but once you do, that wave of joy from simply pushing down the pedal, turning up the volume, and looking out at fields on both sides of the highway is as if there is no end in sight to either your journey or the horizon. I’ve learned to be careful how many people I tell before I leave (mostly because I don’t have enough lead time), but without fail, everyone is ready to drop their cushy nine to five desk job, hop in the truck, and come North to get rocks and thorns in their shoes and soaking wet in the winery. “I’m coming up next year! ” they say. “I don’t even know if I’m coming up next year!” I reply. It so happens that I’ve said that the last two years and I’m afraid to say it again because I’m worried that will ensure that it does.
Without fail, the first morning I awake in Sonoma, there’s always some work to be done, and it always starts at the same time: 6:30AM. When it comes to helping out on one of the picking crews, I’m one of the lucky ones. The managers have to set up in anticipation of their crew, so they get to the vineyards at about the same time I’m reaching around aimlessly for my glasses. There are bins to be delivered to the designated blocks, labels to be made for each bin, scales to be set up once the bins start coming in, and tractors to be arranged for a uninterrupted pick. So I’ve heard…I’m not actually there to witness any of this, I’m still making breakfast!
Guest Bloger Charlie Ron Pennes is a leading member of the self-described Harvest Reserves working his third harvest running bins in the vineyard and working the crush for Winery Sixteen 600. This year, we let him catch his breath a few times to take some photos. The Los Angeles native occasionally posts photos to his own blog cronphoto.blogspot.com.
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The weather pattern finally changed today-much needed rain ending 6 week dry spell going back to 2012. It might seem obvious but we love the rain in the vineyards and not just because grapes need water to grow. In vineyard work, rain days are days to rest, time to catch up on office work or just catch up on naps on the couch.
The farmers woke up to rainy weather and got to enjoy rolling over and going back to sleep almost as much as the cover crops are enjoying a cool, winter drenching. The vineyards might be dormant but at Sixteen 600 we are in the height of the growing season, soil growing.
Cover crop in the sun
Phil Coturri's grape growing philosophy starts with the soil and the roots. Phil's magic blend of seeds (bell beans, mustard and other brassica, clovers, a cereal grain like cayuse oats and other annuals) is spread after harvest every fall. These plants help the soil retain moisture, add nitrogen and nutrients to the soil and attract beneficial insects like bees and ladybugs. A successful cover crop leads to a successful year in the vineyard, a year with lush soils, biodiversity and ecological balance- the road map to great wine. (Read more about Phil's cover crop philosophy here)
Bell beans and oats
So while the cover crop (and the farmers) may have enjoyed basking in all that mid-winter sunshine, it was definitely time for some rain…and a nap.
Smokey approves of the cover crop
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for Category Seasonal