By Shiloh Ireland
September 10, 2022 (Lakeside) -- It was a dark and calm morning as I arrived at 5:00 a.m. on August 16 at Trevi Hills Winery in Lakeside, where each harvest, several varieties are hand-picked by staff as well as neighbors who enjoy coming out and volunteering their time.
I saw headlamps and heard muffled voices about 70 feet from my car. Soon, I made contact in the vineyard with Michael Larranaga who is vineyard general manager and sommelier, someone I have known for years who always has a friendly smile. He is in charge of the operation from the vine to the table.
We talked for a few minutes and I explained that I would be fairly unobtrusive with my camera and drone. This sector of the vineyards has white and sweet grapes that will be bottled as Sauvignon Blanc.
On the table in the dark, I observed gloves, headlamps and snips for the harvesters. Each person had a five-gallon bucket. At one end of the vineyard were three large bins where the buckets would be emptied during stage one of the harvest.
I returned to my car and waited for first light, which my phone app displayed as 6.15 am. Checking my gear and now knowing the basic layout, I pondered how I was going to use my photography to best bring the process to the reader. The drone would enhance the overhead visuals whereas the camera would emphasize the people and the steps.
As light began to appear, I returned to the area and asked Michael if I could participate in the grape harvest. Soon, with gloves, and snips and a headlamp to better see the clusters, I was in the harvest. It was a nice surprise to see and speak with neighbors I know as well as ones that I soon met.
Why meet up at 5 a.m.? Larranaga said, “The process begins in darkness to avoid the August heat and also to avoid the many important bees that arrive soon after light to the attractant of grapes.”
Step 1-Picking the Grapes. Picking grapes does get sticky, but tolerable. Each side of each row had folks cutting the clusters. Netting had been in place to discourage birds from feasting on tasty treats. Fifteen rows were picked on both sides; we ended about 8:30 a.m.
As the harvesters finished and crossed the street to the winery to clean up and have a light breakfast, I stayed in the field to photograph the movement of grapes to the winery. Soon, a gentleman in a skip loader picked up each bin for delivery and weigh-in.
Step 2-Preparing the Machinery. Most of the processing machinery is crafted in Italy and is stainless steel. All of these machines are rinsed with water and the processing room has an array of valves, hoses and parts that are production equipment. The gross weight picked totaled 950 lbs. of grapes.
The conveyor belt, once assembled, was ready to move the grapes to a machine that extracted stems and another for the juice and pulp. The challenging task in this step was hand scooping the grapes from each bin into the hopper feeding the conveyor belt. Those buckets were used again. When asked why the bin could not be hydraulically positioned over and into the hopper mechanically, I was told by staff, Steve and Robert, ”The risk of tipping it over is possible and loss of time and a mess occurs.”
After the three bins were finished with this step, I was offered a taste of the juice and was surprised how sweet it was. The color was green and thick with pulp.
Step-3-The Presser. This is the process of squeezing the last portion of juice from the grapes while the juice is traveling via a floor motorized tube and vacuum to the storage tank. Again, the buckets are hand-scooping the pulp into the presser. Another pump has emptied most of the juice and sent to the storage container prior to the presser.
Step-4-Clean Up. The presser holds the heavy mash that is often used for animal feed at completion. I took a bucket home and my chickens and horses enjoyed it. All the machinery is now cleaned and the presser is a cylindrical shaped juicer which required a few cleanings before processing the three bins. The mash is removed by hand.
Now, I observed Michael calibrating the temperature of the storage tank, since it will be chilled for several months and checks are made for any sediments and the yeast and other chemicals will be added later to initiate the fermentation. Unlike red grapes that are sent to oak barrels for up to three years, this wine is stored in the chilled reservoir for several months.
According to Larranaga, “There is a two-day window to harvest grapes as to avoid too early or too late.“ I began harvesting when I was seventeen years old years old in Sonoma.”
When the wine is ready, a special truck arrives that comes in and labels and bottles the wine actually on the truck itself. I look forward to seeing that in the future.
Trevi Hills Winery is located at 13010 Muth Valley Road, Lakeside 92040 and is open Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm It has occasional entertainment and also hosts private events.
Interested in assisting with the harvesting and processing? Contact Michael at 248.302.1567. He can advise on the next harvest dates.
Photo, below left: Michael Larranaga via Trevi Hills Winery