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Handsome Field Trip: Picking Pinot

Clone 777 Pinot Noir Grapes, ready for the bucket

Clone 777 pinot noir, ready for the bucket

Last weekend we went to the Santa Ynez valley in Santa Barbara wine country to pick some of the best pinot noir grapes in the region. Was this part of some wine country tour or easy-street wine tasting? Nope – we were at Clos Pepe Vineyards volunteering for the annual harvest of chardonnay and pinot noir wine grapes. Volunteering for manual labor may sound like a ridiculous thing to do, but on the contrary it’s really quite handsome.

We’re hardly oenephiles, but being slightly knowledgeable about wine has many practical applications, including but not limited to:

  • impressing dates
  • making wine store trips less intimidating
  • adding to our formidable arsenal of smug party conversation topics

Moreover it’s important to know where your food comes from. Picking bundles and bundles of grapes with nothing more than a pair of snips and a bucket really makes you think about how incredibly meticulous growing wine grapes is. Every vine was tied, pruned, and picked by hand. The crop is then sorted by hand. A few months, barrels, and a bottle later, you then use your hand to get drunk (we recommend using a glass at this stage, but far be it for us to dictate your drinking habits).

Dragging mud on our shoes as we trudged through the vineyard picking, we had the chance to glean from Clos’ vineyard manager/winemaker Wes Hagen about how subtle differences in soil combine with subtle differences in pinot clones to make a spectacular bottle of wine. We were encouraged to try grapes from any bunch that looked questionably sour. More fun farm facts: the entire time we were picking the vineyard’s greyhounds kept us company running the vines to look for the feral rabbits that comprise at least half of the hound’s diet. By the end of the day, a few tons of grapes had been picked, we ate more grapes than we can count, and we could squeeze dirty remnants of the morning’s rains out of our cotton gloves with every fist. Best of all, there was a whole crew of other volunteer cork dorks to discuss topics like wine and why they were up at 6:15am to volunteer for farm work.

Clos Pepe is grown and crafted in the Santa Rita Hills, one of 190 officially recognized AVA appellations. Wines labeled from these special regions are closely controlled by the government; each AVA-specific wine must have at least 85% of it’s grapes sources from within the AVA. While not entirely consequential to the day’s pick, the fact that someone is regulating this reminded us that there are actually a few decent jobs to be had in the government (president, astronaut, wine regulator).

Ed. note – We espoused the great social benefits of Clos Pepe’s farming practices at our work gig, but to reiterate: good practices make for good wine.

On patrol

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2 comments

  1. eeyun posted on October 15, 2008:

    A characteristically judicious use of your spare time there Handsome, well done. I’m now interested to see if any of the wineries up here allow similar volunteer harvesting. There are some in the Gulf Islands I’d be particularly keen on visiting.

    Excellent cross-bloggination btw!

  2. Bret posted on October 23, 2008:

    You may not be oenephiles, but you’re definitely PENEphiles!

    LOL!

    Solid entry, as per yoozh.

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