We harvested the first grapes for our still wines last Friday, a little over six tons of Pinot Noir from the highest elevation block of Smith Vineyard. That block sits at 1,200 feet, well above the fog line, so it tends to ripen on the early side. It’s usually the first block we pick, and this year didn’t disappoint. Those grapes, all from the Calera clone, are destined for Lucienne.

Hand harvesting at Smith Vineyard

As is our tradition, we let the new cellar workers have the honor of putting the first load of grapes in the crusher. And we toasted the beginning of harvest with sparkling wine all around, a few sips for our team, and a few splashes for the grapes. Pouring sparkling wine over the first grapes of the year is another tradition at Hahn…we hope it brings a bountiful and safe harvest!

Hahn Estate’s annual tradition: toasting to the first haul of the new harvest!

By the end of this week I expect picking to be in full swing. We harvested those first few tons from Smith Vineyard by hand, but once we get rolling we’ll use a combination of hand and machine-picking. Being able to use both has a lot of advantages. Hand-picking is ideal for smaller blocks and particularly those on steep hillsides. But when we have a lot of fruit ripening at once it’s crucial to be able to pick the grapes at just the right time. Because of the number of vineyards we farm and also because of labor shortages (we compete for labor with neighboring wineries as well as vegetable growers in Salinas Valley), we can’t always get the crews to our vineyards just when we need them. But our machine harvester is always available!

A Pellenc grape harvester in action

We use a Pellenc grape harvester which was developed in France. It’s a pretty incredible piece of equipment. Not only does it pick the clusters (by shaking them off the vines) and de-stem the grapes, it sorts the berries using a system of conveyor belts and rollers, removing leaves, petioles and small unripe berries which get left behind in the vineyard. When the sorted grapes arrive at the winery they are absolutely pristine and ready for processing. Machine harvesting has come a long, long way since I started making wine. I’m grateful we have this option at our disposal.

Paul Clifton, V.P. of Winemaking