We at Stomping Girl have just gotten through harvest and can finally take a bit of a breather.  Now, mind you, “harvest” means much more than just harvest. The term refers to everything from harvesting the grapes to crushing the grapes to pressing the wine.  It takes about 2 weeks to take one of our Pinots from harvest to press and we had three harvests this year.  Check out some of our photos taken during these last several weeks during Stomping Girl’s ’09 harvest.

Protective netting around the vines, the sounds of gunshots or recorded sounds of birds of prey are just 3 ways we saw wine grape growers naturally (here are links describing other sustainable farming methods our’s and other vineyards use) protecting their precious crop this time of year.  Birds know when the grapes are ripe and a flock of starlings can clean a large vineyard out in a matter of hours–yikes!  At Lauterbach vineyards, recording devices playing the calls of raptors and starlings in distress are utilized to protect the grapes from birds.   Mr. Lauterbach says they have not had any significant grape loss to birds since they were first installed. The sound boxes, strategically placed around the vineyard, are doing their job quite efficiently. They are hardly noticeable, require very little effort or energy and are pleasing to the ear.  Above you can view a short video (sorry for the amateur nature) of these in Lauterbach vineyard

On a related note, I recently visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek with an old friend from high school and our kids.  They have a fabulous collection of live raptors that have been injured in the wild and brought there for rehabilitation and display–these birds are truly incredible to see close up.  It would be great to have live raptors that we could count on to completely protect the vineyards…but, alas, we are happy with the very cool sound boxes in Lauterbach Vineyards that are doing their job.

Live Raptors at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum

Live Raptors at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum

Uzi taking Brix measurements in the vineyard     

Uzi taking Brix measurements in the vineyard

The vineyards in the Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros from which we source fruit look beautiful and the weather has been perfect these last weeks with cool nights and warm days.  Earlier this week we visited each vineyard and brought along our handheld refractometer to measure the Brix levels of the grapes.  The refractometer looks similar to a small telescope.  There is a small glass plate that flips out onto which you place a sample of juice by squishing above it a grape freshly plucked from the vine.  Then you hold it to the sun and the light traveling through the sample in the refractometer is reflected (refracted?) in such a way that a line shadow is formed separating a dark area from a light area.  It is here at the shadow line that the reading is taken.

Our measurements at Lauterbach Vineyard in the Russian River Valley were about 20.5 Brix.  Beresini Vineyard Brix level, in Carneros, is slightly behind at 20.2 Brix.  Corona Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, is farther behind,  as expected, at around 17 Brix.  We shoot to harvest at 24.5 Brix and Lauterbach Vineyard in the RRV will probably be our first grapes to be harvested and brought into the winery in approxiately 2-3 weeks.

RRV grapes at end of August

RRV grapes at end of August

Stomping Girl barrels

Stomping Girl barrels arrive

We’re moving into our new space in preparation for this year’s harvest.  After some logistical juggling among usJoseph Phelps, A Donkey and Goat, JC Cellars, craigslist delivery truck drivers and a little faith, our fermentation bins, barrels and barrel racks have all arrived safely and are ready for action.  After finalizing our last vineyard contract for some Russian River fruit and obtaining a few more items: refractometer, punch down tool, yeast, bungs and help (to name a few) we’ll be ready to roll. Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast Pinots are typically harvested mid to late-September but it all depends on the weather during the next several weeks. Can’t wait!  In the meantime, our 2008 Pinot also needs our attention…more to come on that…

Stomping Girl ferm. bins

Stomping Girl fermentation bins waiting for grapes

Uzi and I were in the Russian River Valley this weekend trying to finalize a third Pinot Noir vineyard for 2009.  The weather was a cool 75 degrees when we arrived at the first vineyard just off River Road at 10:30. The owner walked us through his vines of Pommard, 115 and 777 clones.  These are the Pinot clones we prefer, the clones that will hopefully give us the well-balanced, yet complex Pinot Noir we prefer.  At just under 8 acres, the Pinot vineyard is nicely farmed by a very well-known farmer/viticulturist who keeps the yield to about 2 tons/acre–this is the type of low-yield vineyard we are looking for.  The grapes here have just barely begun to change color.  This process during which the grapes turn from green to purple is called verasion.  The owner speculated harvest will occur mid-September.

verasion begins

verasion begins

We tasted several samples of the 2008 vintage as well as a 2006 and 2004.  All were very impressive, in particular the 2004.  We enjoyed sharing winemaking stories with the owner and then went on our way to mull the opportunity to buy grapes from this vineyard.  This year we have been lucky to have unprecedented opportunities to some excellent Pinot fruit.  We stopped just down the hill to taste at Martinelli Winery and have a working picnic under their beautiful arbor with the single biggest cluster of grapes I have ever seen.  Get a load of this cluster:

grapecluster

working lunch

working lunch

The temperature quickly rose as we reached our second stop.  It made for an uncomfortable walk in the 92 degree heat.  Here in these vineyards, just to the northeast where it is warmer, verasion had reached almost 30%, according to the helpful viticulturist who took us through the vineyards.  She mentioned that harvest may very well come by the end of August.  In the picture below you can see how much farther verasion has progressed at this vineyard than in the preceeding one.

verasion progressing

verasion progressing

Here they have several blocks of Pinot Noir containing an array of clones–114, 115, 459, 667, 777, 828…So many, that I am not kidding when I say I had these numbers dancing in my head that night as I slept.  A very well-maintained vineyard with an incredible range to choose from. During this trip it was easy to see how the microclimates within the Russian River Valley make a big difference.  In just a 2-mile radius there can be more than a month difference in harvest date for the same varietal.  In fact, records we compared for these two vineyards show about 1 month difference in harvest dates.