By Kara Busselen
It was a record year for Woodhawk Vineyards! We harvested the most tons of grapes the vineyard has ever produced – 81 tons. As you may remember, we sell nearly all our grapes to Silver Oak. We were the first Cab to be harvested in Alexander Valley (as we usually are given our vineyard location and orientation) and this year we kept 2.5 tons for ourselves to make our Woodhawk Vineyard 2023 Cabernet, which will come to roughly 2000 bottles.
We were up before dawn to meet the crews in the vineyard. Harvest day is so exciting– it feels like Christmas morning. About 70 people came up in vans, trucks and tractors to get ready to hand-pick the grapes. Our property is too steep to harvest with machines, so our vineyard management company brings in a lot of help.
These guys are the real heroes of harvest. Before sunrise, wearing their safety vests, they were performing calisthenics to get ready to roll. Once the sun was up, the foreman gave the green light, and these guys hustled. They work so fast it’s hard to even see how they’re cutting each cluster from the vines. The fill bins about the size of a laundry hamper, then run– yes RUN– up the row to dump their bin into the bigger macrobin, and then hustle back to collect more. Overall, it takes about two hours an acre to harvest our grapes.
Once the grapes are harvested, they go into giant trailers and get trucked immediately to Silver Oak. In our case, with our 2.5 tons, we took it down the street to a fellow winery owner for a custom crush. That means he lets us use his equipment and his workers to process our grapes into wine. We met our winemaker Rob Davis and we watched as they sent our grapes up a conveyor belt into the destemmer/crusher, and come out the bottom as crushed grapes without the stems (in winery-speak, the stems are called “jacks”).
Then the forklifts appeared to lift the bin of crushed grapes and dump them into a giant stainless steel fermentation tank. This is where the fun begins: after an initial punch down, twice a day the tank needs to be pumped-over, which is when they attach a hose to the bottom of the tank and pump the juice from the bottom over the top of the cap to further mix it.
Rob was there every step of the way, working his chemistry magic as the crushed grapes and juice slowly began to lose their sugar. “Brix” is the term used to describe residual sugar in wine, and during fermentation, you end up with that dropping to zero as the sugar becomes alcohol. Then, my friends, you officially have wine.
Next step is the malolactic fermentation, which happens in a bigger stainless steel tank that can be sealed while this secondary fermentation takes place. Then, we will move the wine into barrels and let the waiting begin. Luckily, our custom crush guy also has a huge wine cave, so he’ll be able to store our wine for us.
It will be the first batch we’ll be able to sell (once it’s ready in about three years) because we got our Alcoholic Beverage License and all the various permits this year. We’re so excited to finally be able to make and share our first official Woodhawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon!
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