Picture this - it's 5 o'clock in the morning on the first of day September. Thick, misty fog has crept out from the coast and hangs menacingly over the rural California landscape. There is not a sign of star nor moon, only dreary darkness in every direction. We pilot our car down the curvy back roads of Santa Barbara County en-route to our destination.
A bit groggy but no worse for wear we roll up to Presqu'ile Winery and park our car. Bright lights in the distance illuminate a small section of vineyard and as we approach the scene is unreal - almost complete phantasmagoria. Seemingly impenetrable fog grips tightly to each vine as an iridescent halo of electricity provides barely enough visibility to maintain context. We spotted workers zipping around like busy bees combing each row of vines for precious fruit. This was it - the first day of harvest!
Today we are fortunate to be shadowing Coastal Vineyard Care as they pick the first blocks of Pinot Noir for Presqu'ile. The harvest actually started in the cool of night at 2am, but Coastal's Compliance & Social Media Manager Heather kindly suggested we arrive a touch later for a bit of a "lite" version harvest. We don our vests, grab our clippers and buckets, and jump right into the fray.
First impressions stick with you and there were a few things we noticed when we dug into the vines to start picking grapes. Immediately we were in awe at the sheer beauty of this fruit! We clipped cluster after perfect tiny cluster and dropped them into our buckets amazed at how each bunch of berries seemed prettier than the last. As we stood there enamored we came to our next realization: vineyard crews work fast and we were about to get passed! These guys and gals working with us are true professionals and absolutely shredded through vine after vine at lightning speed. We moved out of their way and continued picking further down the line to avoid causing any hiccups. After filling our buckets we dumped our fruit and stood back to take in the moment.
The sun began to rise and skies turned from dark and malicious to soft and optimistic. A sparkling layer of dew seemed to cover everything in sight causing the gathered grapes to shimmer like a collection of prized gems. As the last bunches of grapes were brought in we continued to marvel at just how mesmerizing each and every cluster looked. Once the day's work was complete we gathered around the haul along with the rest of the vineyard workers. "¡Rico vino!" exclaimed one picker as she held up an immaculate cluster and smiled. The grapes were loaded onto a truck and quickly whisked off to the winery to begin the next step of their journey.
And that was the end of our hands-on harvest experience. While our brief stint of amateur labor probably did more harm than good it was wonderful to get to be there during the moment when the vines gave up their fruit to begin the transition into wine. Heather at Coastal Vineyard Care was amazing for arranging everything for us and letting us come bother her and the crew. We owe her big time for allowing us this experience!
Notes: During our time around the vines we spent many minutes chatting with Andrew the Vineyard Manager to pick his brain. Andrew confirmed for us that the 2018 vintage in Santa Barbara was another great one. Early frosts caused a slightly late start to the season and thankfully there were virtually no major heat or weather events to cause trouble during the summer. Vines remained healthy and the fruit largely avoided disease. We eagerly await trying the wines from this vintage as we remember the fun we had helping them along their journey.