Fruit of the vine. Yum. I’m guilty of not really paying attention to what it takes to get a bottle of wine to my table. So I asked a prominent California Delta wine grape grower and vintner if I could tag along while they labored to bring in their crush-ready crop of pinot noir grapes.
For several fall harvest seasons I’ve been wanting to chase the odd looking machines that trundle up and down rows of wine grapes in the California Delta starting in early evening. The Clarksburg area, just south of Sacramento, has a state-wide reputation, and beyond, for the quality and variety of grapes and wines produced there. It’s a part of the Delta that I wander from time to time and when I see these unusual machines on rolling stilts at dusk, headlights blazing, I’ve made mental notes to ask permission to ride along. Unfortunately mental notes aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. But this season I say to myself, if not now when?
When most of us are just ending our work day, as the lingering heat of late fall begins to cool with the setting of the sun, wine grape growers are just beginning theirs. Warren Bogle, President and Vineyard Director of Bogle Vineyards, was kind enough to allow me to watch and photograph what they do after dark. He tells me they’ve been harvesting at night since the early 1970’s and there are several reasons for this. 1) The fruit is easier to handle for the mechanical harvesters, it seems the grapes fall off the vines more readily, improving the yield. 2) When the grapes cool after a long hot day their sugar content is more stable. 3) The acid level is better and there is less chance of spoilage. 4) There is an added bonus; the workers are happier working in the cooler temperatures of the night air as opposed to the nearly 100 degrees that is usually prevalent at the time of harvest.
Let me add one more benefit, one I’m sure the growers never considered – high noon is not my favorite time of day to be making pictures, regardless of season. Sounds like a winning scenario all the way around to me.
My visits out to the vineyards started a bit before sundown and I was gifted with a colorful one. What I thought would be a simple matter of finding a good spot to watch the process was actually not that easy. These crews cover a lot of ground much quicker than I thought possible. They’ve got a job to do and that job has a deadline. This fruit needs to find its way to the crusher while it is at its peak. I have to move fast to keep up with them before I lose the good light.
Final thought: I’ve gained a new appreciation for what it takes to bring this product to market. I’m not a wine connoisseur but I do enjoy an occasional glass or two, especially when it is well-paired with good food. In the future, when I look down the supermarket wine aisle, I believe I will be less apt to take it for granted.
Warren Bogle: “It’s in my blood and I love being able to taste the product and know I had a hand in it from grape to bottle.”
My thanks to the Bogle Family Winery for allowing me this ride-along.
Rich Turner explored, photographed, and aerial photo-mapped Antarctica as a Navy photographer, was a newspaper photojournalist for 19 years, and has operated his own fine art photography studio since 1990. “Delta Grandeur”, his traveling exhibit, is now touring California museums and libraries. His most recent passion is spreading the word far and wide about what an amazing place the Delta and Greater Bay Area is. With the help of very talented writers, artists and photographers, publishing this magazine seems a good way to do that.