[10:27] THE BLOG | WineRituals -CATTLEYA WINES | Pinot Noir. Chardonnay. Syrah. Handcrafted in California.

BLOG / WineRituals

cattleya December, 2014
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24 hours in the Ritual of Harvest

It is that time of the year once again. As 2014 winds to a close, I paused to look at
the results of our work. Recollections of the harvest ritual were so vivid in my mind.
So, during this holiday season, I decided to begin Cattleya Wines’ new blog:
“WineRituals.” This first-ever blog post encapsulates the critical hours where the
life of a new wine begins . . . harvest time.

At Midnight: The night Harvest Ritual begins.
Whether waking up from sleep -or continuing a long day without it, night harvest rituals begin in the dark of the night. Cold nocturnal temperatures (between 47 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) can significantly impact the integrity of the fruit, due to a nearly imperceptible change in fruit quality induced by oxidative or enzymatic reactions that can occur under warm conditions. These slight changes can be significant in the final wine.


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Beyond lack of sleep, darkness and cold, there is the challenge of a 47-mile drive on a largely untraveled and winding country road to the coast. Anticipation is high for the entire distance and nearly an hour and 15 minutes later, I arrive at the remote vineyard for the ritual of checking the harvest.

This particular day in this amazing place was very special to me. This was day one of harvest at a single remote vineyard, sited at the extreme western edge of Sonoma County, four miles from the Pacific. The first day of harvest marks the new vintage and all its rituals of making wine. This day sets the tone for the quality we should expect.

Heaven on Earth: were ideal, quality of fruit magnificent. As for my heart, it was beating rapidly with the anxiety and excitement that harvest brings to my body. These long days of harvest and winemaking would not be possible without that productive hormone called adrenaline.I have no other explanation for how we can go seemingly endless 16-hour days for weeks – except for helpful hormones and the passion fueling our bodies.

Present and accounted for: 23 pickers, our vineyard supervisor, my assistant and myself walk through the rows; checking the fruit, harvesting only the most perfectly ripe clusters of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We tally the tonnage picked per block and compare it with our year-’round crop estimates. The 2014 vintage crop is as expected – less than three pounds per vine for our Pinot Noir blocks, but less than two pounds per vine for our clone Swan, as well as for our Chardonnay Mt Eden loose clusters.


5:30 AM: When harvest wraps with sunrise, the light brings up the rich fruit colors in contrast with the amazing green canopy. We all feel the relief of having the fruit in the bins, ready to make the circuitous route to the winery. Jesus and Fermin load the truck after each bin is weighed, as my assistant and I get back on the road. I can barely wait to see the fruit on the sorting table – then to taste the flavors out of the fresh skins, to crack into the pulp, to savor the flavors, to taste the sugar and the acidity. And finally, to bite into the stems of the red clusters to determine if any will be added to the fermenter.


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7:30 AM: We arrive at the winery. First we taste more fruit from the bins. Next we take samples needed to run our panel of analyses dedicated to knowing the minimum differences between each clone and block.
We start by sorting the Chardonnay, and without crushing the clusters, we gently deposit them into the white wine press. We carefully begin a very gentle program that will extract that complex mix of floral, fruity and tasty flavors of this delicate varietal. After about two hours, the juice is put to rest in the tank for 24 hours.

By the time we are running the white press, the Pinot Noir clusters are being scrutinized in order to remove any unripe or overripe fruit. We also remove any leaves that may have wandered into the bins during the pick.
I ultimately decide not to leave any stems on the clusters, so 100% de-stemming occurs for this first Pinot Noir tank. We finished sorting by 6:00 PM. Ready now to check the Chardonnay juice in the tank and select the barrels we will use for fermentation.

Above and Beyond: As I wearily count 18 hours of non-stop work, I return to my desk to analyze the numbers gathered from our maturity samples and set the schedule for the next day of fruit picking at this particular site.

I then move to the Pisoni winery, where I make Cattleya Wines and Shared Notes (a very small project of only Sauvignon Blanc wines made in partnership with my husband). Checking on the wines we currently have fermenting, I also make for next day’s picking decisions and assure that fruit sample tasting is on schedule.

I make a quick round of tasting and check on the small fermenters, smell the fermentation in barrels and tanks, then move to my office on the second floor, write work orders and head out for dinner. It is already 9:00 PM. Where did the time go?!


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10:00 PM: Although I am quite ready to go to bed, I check with the night harvest crew by phone to be sure we are all set for the new harvest. This time, I will not be driving to the vineyard.

Before trying to sleep, I post the day’s images to Instagram. I then disconnect my mind from the day and fall into a deep sleep!

P.S.: When I woke up, I vividly recalled a dream of pumps, sorting tables and harvest. These dreams happen quite often when your body, soul and mind are 100% into a passionate and quite physical ritual.

The Ritual of making wine. This is my life’s work.