As we followed grower Ted Klopp out to his Thorn Ridge Ranch vineyard early Sunday morning, Clay and I were like two kids getting a slice of pie after spending all day watching it cool on the windowsill. After a month experiencing the buzz of the harvest season but not being able to enjoy it ourselves because our grapes will not be ready until next year, we were finally going to get to participate in a harvest of our own. We’ve become friendly with Ted and Kathy Klopp, owners of Thorn Ridge Ranch and Klopp Ranch Vineyards. Ted is well known for his wonderful fruit and is a particular favorite of Pinot Noir’s shining star, Merry Edwards. Because of this year’s abundant harvest, winemakers don’t need all of the fruit in their allocated blocks. When Kathy mentioned Saturday that the leftover fruit would be left hanging on the vine, we had to ask if we could purchase some of it. Clay is a small-batch winemaker who shares his efforts with friends and family, and the opportunity to make wine out of Ted’s highly revered Pommard Pinot Noir fruit was irresistible.
We’d roped our brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Sharon Hedge, into picking with us. They never behaved once like they weren’t thrilled to be doing manual labor at the break of dawn. There was just enough light to see by at 6:30 a.m., when Ted led us to the four rows we were going to pick from and gave us four bandejas -- small collecting trays -- and a macro bin to dump fruit into.
Fruit crowded the vines in the rows, dripping through the autumn-tinted leaves in thick, dark clusters. Ted demonstrated the proper method of removing the grapes, what to look for and what to avoid. As we began using our pruning shears to cut through the thick stems, Ted stayed with us and picked by our side, sharing information and stories as the sun rose over the long rows. Some of the grapes were overripe and fell apart when they dropped into our bins. Some were beginning to raisin. While I thought we should cut those out, Ted told us to leave those in because their sweetness increased the sugar in the wine.
The deep respect I already had for the harvest workers grew deeper. We only have the capacity to process 500 pounds of grapes, which the four of us were able to collect off the fruit-heavy vines in about an hour-and-a-half. But the work was strenuous: stooping over to cut off the chest-high clusters, cutting at the thick stems while avoiding the cane, and battling the heat and the yellow jackets as the day grew warmer. The full bendejas weigh 40 pounds. I kicked it along with my foot while I dropped in fruit and had to ask Clay or Chris to carry it to the macro bin. Harvest workers sprint with their bendejas, hurrying to collect the most fruit and earn the most money.
One of my favorite recollections of the day was when Ted repeatedly urged us to keep our eyes open and watch for the sunrise. The vineyard had a pretty good slope to it and you could see the valley and the mountains beyond it. When the sun came up, the view was stunning. Ted is a man who sees many sunrises, especially during harvest season. But they’re still a big deal to him. He reminded me that beautiful sunrises and abundant harvests and happy coincidences can’t be taken for granted.
To see more photos of our Thorn Ridge Ranch harvest, go to our Facebook page.
To see the evolution of these grapes from harvest to bottling: