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Harvest Traditions in the Vineyard

One of the notable aspects of Husch wines is that we still pick our grapes by hand. In an era of increasing vineyard mechanization, we rely on the old-fashioned way of picking grapes.

Stories from the first harvest at Husch (1971) remind us that a tradition of using friends and family started early. Those were the hippie days at the winery and harvest was attacked with a mix of enthusiasm and naivetť. The pick crew was a rag-tag mix of weekenders commuting from Berkeley, locals looking to make extra money and the winery crew. The shenanigans of the Berkeley crew are a fun part of the winery lore today. Apparently wine was served "to cool down" as the days grew warm and by afternoon the effort to pick grapes was stalled by naps and - shall we say delicately - socializing, smoke breaks, and making new friends. All in the vineyard! Of note, not ALL the traditions from that first harvest continue today.

In 2018 our vineyard pick starts with an email from winemaker Brad announcing which fields he wants picked within the next 7 days. Planning in advance can be tricky because Brad has to anticipate when the fruit in each field will be ripe. Weather reports, sugar sampling, intuition, and a Magic 8 Ball help Brad determine the right call.

The pick crew arrives about 2am. At Husch we have fully converted to night picking, which is cooler for the pickers and produces cold fruit perfect for winemaking. We typically start with 20 empty picking bins staged right in front of our tasting room and a complex logistical dance begins. The pickers head to the field, while the tractor drivers load empty bins onto the trailer that they tow into the field.

Each picker has his or her own headlamp along with a pair of clippers and a picking bucket. The 14 person crew spreads out over three rows and the tractor with the empty bins is stationed in the middle row. Pickers work their way down the row, cutting each cluster into the bucket, trying not to miss any fruit in the dark. When the bucket is full the picker will empty the bucket into the larger picking bin towed behind the tractor.

The pick coordinator, either foreman Raul or family owner Zac, has to be present to make the tactical decisions for the night. If the crop is heavier than expected, how do we proceed? This year Raul had to fix a broken tractor - laden with three full bins and blocking the avenue. Often Zac will leave a smoothly operating pick to start work in the kitchen making breakfast burritos for the crew (see recipe inside).

The quiet night is interrupted by the call of the pickers announcing the completion of each bucket. This helps the tractor driver, whose second job is to note the number of buckets picked by each worker. It takes an average picker 10 minutes to fill a bucket. As a whole, the crew is able to fill all the picking bins in less than 30 minutes.

"El pollo" - the chicken - is one of the most important jobs in the field during the pick. The chicken is stationed at the bin to remove leaves that are unintentionally picked along with the grapes. A good chicken can make the difference between the bin being filled with pristine fruit or an ugly mix of fruit and leaves. For the past decade Juan Chico has been the chicken for Husch.

During the hectic night pick, we are also treated to sights not seen during the day. A low flying screech owl will sometimes object to our presence. On the moonless nights the Milky Way shines bright and shooting stars are common. Two weeks after the dark nights we will pick under the light of the full moon.

As the pick nears completion, the talk turns to games and breakfast burritos. The Oswald family has a long tradition of games and now it is part of the harvest tradition. Some years we play "ladron" (thief) and sometimes itís "loteria" (lottery). Either way, the night ends with laughs, prizes, and always some unexpected $100 bills.

Employee Highlight: What Wine is Most Like You?

Al White, Viticulturist, 44 years at Husch
2016 'Special Reserve' Chardonnay

Special, because I am. Reserve, because I'm reserved. White is my last name, so it seems fitting that Iíd select a white wine. The wineís rich maturity along with the smooth and supple aromas and long finish show the benefit of the attention, care and quality that resides in every bottle of Husch wine.

Metah Green, Tasting Room Manager, 11 years at Husch
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

We can start with the fun fact that my sisterís name is Cab. Aside from that Cabernet and I have many commonalities. It is a wine to be enjoyed with friends, around a large dinner table, full of fine and rustic foods. A go-to wine when looking for something balanced for all occasions to brighten the mood.

Brad Holstine, Winemaker, 15 years at Husch
2016 'Old Vines' Heritage

After each harvest I notice a few more aches and pains so itís fitting that any of our Old Vines would be on my list. The Heritage blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane speaks volumes to my love of crafting wines at Husch. Plus itís the perfect vintage to enjoy on a trout stream.

In the Cellar: Wine temperature addressed by Assistant Winemaker Derek Sanchez

"Nothing Worse than Cold Beans," was a common dinner-time saying of my grandfather, who liked his food piping hot. This thought has resonated with me later in life when considering appropriate serving temperatures of not just food, but also wine. Why should we worry about the serving, or more importantly, the drinking temperature of our favorite beverage? Because wine is all about enjoyment and if it brings a more pleasurable experience we should embrace it.

We have all heard that red wines should be served at room temperature, but what we didnít hear is that this temperature refers to a Scottish stone castle in springtime. We refer to this as cellar temperature - about 55įF. For more southerly latitudes of California, and much of the United States, room temperature can be warmer than appropriate.

First we should discuss how temperature affects wine. Chilling wine can make it more crisp, lean, and refreshing, which is why we chill whites because it accents these desirable characteristics. But too cold can cause a reduction of aromas, increased perception of acidity, harshness of tannin and precipitate tartrate crystals (those white diamonds you may see in the bottom of a bottle left in the refrigerator too long. Donít worry itís not harmful, just decant off to avoid the gritty nature and drink away!)

In contrast, wine too warm can appear flat or flabby and present a higher perception of alcohol. Also, remember there can be devastating effects of storing wine in too warm conditions.

A good rule of thumb is to drink white wines in the low 50s and reds in the low 60s. While you donít need to bring a thermometer along with you to your next tasting, the right temperature can help you enjoy your next bottle. Just remember what makes wine beautiful: we all have different preferences. As my grandfather liked his beans scorching hot, enjoy your wine at the temperature that suits your taste. Even if thatís a couple ice cubes in your Chardonnay. Cheers!

2018 Harvest Recap

Harvest finished October 19, with our final pick of Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes have completed fermentation, been pressed and racked. The new wines are now aging in barrel (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Heritage) or stainless steel tank (Sauvignon Blanc, GewŁrztraminer, Muscat, Chenin Blanc). We will greet the new year by bottling the 2018 Chenin Blanc. As the wines develop, each varietal will be bottled throughout the year with the final Pinot Noir bottling in July right before harvest in August. Cabernet Sauvignon, Heritage and Oz remain in barrel during harvest for extended oak aging. At first glance the fruit from 2018 looks, smells and tastes amazing. We look forward to sharing this vintage with you.

Husch Harvest Breakfast Burritos (serves 40!)

4 dozen eggs
5 lb bag tater tots
3 lbs bacon
1 large can jalapeŮos (26 oz)
1 lb jack/cheddar cheese, shredded
salt & pepper
40 large flour tortillas

Bake frozen tater tots per recipe on bag. While the tots bake, cook the bacon, then drain and chop. Dice jalapenos. In a large frying pan or wok, scramble eggs. When eggs are near firm add bacon, jalapenos, and jack/cheddar cheese. Mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using a large serving spoon, dollop the egg mixture onto a warm tortilla. Add 6 tater tots then wrap tight. Wrap each complete burrito in aluminum foil; keep in warm oven and serve within 2 hours.

Enjoy with coffee, tea, fresh OJ or our favorite...Chenin Blanc.