All of us at The Raford Inn are still in “Crush” mode, as Dane carefully tests the grapes each day and looks for a green light from the lab results! I asked Dane for some insight on this year’s harvest.
Melia: You began harvesting the Pinot Noir on September 4th this year. How long do you think this year’s harvest will last?
Dane: About two months is pretty typical for us and for other growers in the region. Pinot ripens in early September, and Zinfandel traditionally is ready about the first week of October and after. Weather permitting, we also have about 20 plants of our Cabernet Sauvignon ripening until the first week of November, if possible.
Melia: Has this season been what you and Rita were hoping for?
Dane: It’s been phenomenal! Not just ours, but everybody’s grapes, are so lush and full. It’s a bumper crop in the entire region with primo conditions. Lots of different weather conditions can affect the harvest. If it’s been unseasonably cool, or if there’s been a heat spell where there are several days over 100 degrees, for example, you’re going to have sun-burnt grapes unless the leaf canopy offers enough shade. But the temperatures during the ripening and harvesting this year have been consistent: mild to warm, to acceptably hot. The last month or so, it’s been prime growing conditions with temperatures topping out in the high 70s to low to mid 80s nearly every day. Humidity’s been favorable as well. So far, we’ve been spared the early, warm rains that can cause powdery mildew, and we’re hoping it stays mild and dry.
Melia: How about some numbers for us to grasp the size of your operation?
Dane: We harvested 20 Pinot plants that yielded about 250 pounds. That’s about 13 gallons of wine, or about 65 bottles of Pinot. We’ve also harvested about 750 pounds of Zin so far, with at least that much or more still hanging on the vines. We have the luxury to only pick the grapes in stages according to ripeness, while larger commercial operations can’t afford that kind of special attention. We’ll probably do our big Zin harvest today in the next couple of days, since we’ve just had a hot spell this week. The purpose of picking now is to benefit from the higher sugar levels.
Melia: What varietals are tending well this season?
Dane: Wow, they’re all looking good! We tend five varietals: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürtraminer, and our Primitivo. We hope to enter the Pinot and Cab into the Sonoma County and Sonoma-Marin Harvest Fairs next year, in addition to our gold-awarded Zinfandel. Everything seems to be ripening and aging on schedule.
Melia: Now, why is the Raford Zin your favorite?
Dane: Because it’s such a universal wine. It’s not a “heavy hitter,” it’s not bold and muscular… I like a wine to drink every day that goes well with everything. Rather than being over-laden with notes of “black cherry” and so on, our Zin is all about the grape, and I like that. Rita feels the same way- at Wine & Cheese Hour, she’s always asking if there’s an open bottle of our Zin!
Melia: How is the experience of harvesting with our guests?
Dane: We’ve had about a dozen guests really get into harvesting, though it’s not a grape-picking boot camp by any means [laughs]. I had some guests just this morning help me with punch-down. I think it’s pretty liberating for us, and inspiring for them, that we’re not doing this for the money. We’re doing it for the love of it. It’s not just a hobby that makes me happy, it’s a hobby that makes a lot of people happy.
On a personal note, Raford Zinfandel is delicious and is my personal favorite not only because of its drinkability and “grapeness,” but I see firsthand the love that goes into every stage of making it ~Melia
For more information on the wine making process, visit Wine Road, or ask Dane to lead you on a tour through our vineyard!