Fall means harvest is in full swing in Central Coast wine country. Everything is on the line and almost everything else is on hold if you’re a winemaker or vineyard manager.
This year, 2018, marks the 36th wine harvest for Santa Barbara County’s first independent female winemaker, Lane Tanner, winemaker/partner at Lumen Wines. “No two harvests are the same, ever! It is the most electrifying time of the year for me! Harvest keeps me young. It is like a rebirth. It taxes my brain, my patience, my fitness and my home life. The only thing that matters during harvest is harvest and keeping my pets alive. All else falls to the wayside. It is the biggest, longest party you have ever been to and like being the host of any party you have a lot of set up, hard work and clean up. You know there will be laughter, camaraderie, a few fights, an accident or two and memories made that last a lifetime.”
This will be Angela Osborne’s first harvest in six years that she won’t be pregnant or nursing a newborn. The owner and winemaker at Santa Barbara County-based A Tribute to Grace Wine Co. and winemaker at Folded Hills has three sons under age 5. In 2015, Osborne gave birth to her son, Marlin, in her native New Zealand, but the ripening grenache in California needed her attention, too. “I flew back with him when he was 17 days old and we picked our rosé the next day! The last few years have definitely been mad…There’s been little time for anything in my life outside of babies and wine. I’ve missed my best friends’ weddings and umpteen other milestones, all because it’s harvest. There is no way I could do it if I did not truly love it, but that’s like anything. It just has to be an embraced alternate reality (for a few months).”
Harvest is the highlight of Eric Johnson’s year. The winemaker at Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande and owner/winemaker at Ann Albert Wines thrives on the hectic pace. “You are grinding everyday non-stop. I don’t sleep much then, but I feel like I have the most energy during harvest. We night harvest, so it’s weird hours. There are a lot more people working their asses off in the field and in the winery than I think anybody realizes. You have people who are missing their families to do this and to make a great and special product and I can’t stress enough the importance of the people we have in the field. The other thing I always tell people: go to wineries when it’s harvest because it smells amazing! The best smells in the world! Go in there and smell some fermentations. It will blow your mind!”
Jim Stollberg, owner of Maverick Farming Company and partner at Hampton Farming, oversees seven vineyard properties from Paso Robles to Santa Maria. “For me as a vineyard manager, my hours are crazy! There are a lot of moving parts. The typical day for me: we finish harvesting between 7 and 9 a.m. It takes an hour or two to get the fruit picked up or to the winery. I’m trying to line up as many vineyard walks or conversations with winemakers before noon so I can get set for that night. I usually take a nap until 3 o’clock. Then get up and answer phone calls and get everything finalized so I can have my guys lined up to get vineyard equipment moved and ready to go. I have a family dinner and am asleep at 8, then at midnight, it all starts over. That schedule goes on for five to six weeks.”
Harvest-time invigorates Clarissa Nagy, winemaker at Riverbench Vineyards and Nagy Wines in Santa Maria. “Harvest is early mornings, long days and a huge amount of physical labor. I love the aromas in the winery and the flavors in the vineyard. There’s nothing more intoxicating than walking into the cellar and experiencing the fermentation esters first hand. It’s also a fantastic bonding time for my crew. There’s something special about working together to create an end product enjoyed with friends, family, and fellow wine lovers.”
Preparation is key for Ryan Deovlet, owner/winemaker at Deovlet Wines in San Luis Obispo. “Harvest is fun, albeit very intense, and I think it’s important to be well thought out. I once read that [legendary French vintner] Henri Jayer said, ‘The wines I craft in September and October have already been made at my desk in March and April…as the winegrowing season starts.’ As if to say, you can’t just make wine when the grapes land at your doorstep, but instead, it’s about the journey from bud break to bottle.”
This story was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.