Winemakers Reveal Pre-Harvest Rituals – Red Vines, Anyone?

September 11th, 2012

At a recent luncheon event in Los Angeles at The Pennisula Hotel celebrating California Wine Month, Karen Steinwachs, winemaker at Buttonwood Winery in Santa Ynez said to me, “you should write a story about what winemakers do to get ready for the harvest. I buy new socks and take off all my rings (spreading outstretched fingers to demonstrate).”

So here’s a quick peek into what is more than just guys growing beards and everyone drinking a lot of their favorite beer.

Michael Browne of Kosta Browne drinks Ketel One Vodka and Lemonade listening to Rush 2012, Metallica and the Zac Brown band on their 10,000 watt rack system with 10 speakers.

Karl Wente of Wente Vineyards has a ritual that he does every year. He listens to ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Madness’ on audio disc while he’s driving his motorcycle and Neil Young music is on tap. He also plays his guitar in an annual Labor Day music festival called Front Porch.

Anthony Beckman of Balletto Vineyards shared with me his insider tip of ordering a new pair of Redwing Boots in June, wearing them in, and then shipping them back to be resealed just before the harvest begins (great idea!)

Michael McCay of McCay Cellars puts a pillow in the back seat of his truck, listens to Journey and uses his lucky refractometer.

Gina Gallo of E&J Gallo Winery says she wakes up in the middle of the night to write down ideas that come to her regarding the harvest. Debbie Juergenson, winemaker for Red Rock, she says her ritual is a triple shot of espresso in the morning and a steady diet of Red Vines which gets her through harvest.

Austin Peterson of Ovid Napa Valley does laundry (what happens the rest of the year?)

Sabrine Rodems at Wrath Wines admits to sleeping in her office.”You can find extra underwear and things in my desk drawer.”

Tom Greenough of Sausilito Wines listens to Warren Zevon while his interns get in the mood with rap and burritos. He wears two different hats – one with Hash House Hariers (a running club) and one with the Sidney Swans.

Morgan Clendenon of Cold Heaven Cellars says Botox – “it leaves me expression-less”! Got to love that!

Are you a winemaker with a secret wine harvest ritual that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

Do you have an idea for a story you’d like to see – or want to submit one for publication? Contact me at

7 Responses to “Winemakers Reveal Pre-Harvest Rituals – Red Vines, Anyone?”

  1. Sebastopol says:

    Hi, nice idea! I am a winemaker in Germany and have several small traditions and rituals.
    -My favourite colleague and I go shoping for a huge supply of food.
    -Check my locker and stock fresh clothes.
    -Try to learn the lyrics of a new song each year, this year: Carrickfergus (goes well with working in the wee hours).
    -Have a walk through all 3 stories of our cellar and imagine the upcoming work.
    -At the first day of the crush I come extra-early, make coffee for everyone, take a cup and watch rosy-fingered Eos rise.
    Then its the beard-and-beer part for some weeks. Each day or rather night, I leave with a smile on my face, no matter how tired I am. Rather, the more tired I am, the broader the smile is.
    Our profession is the best in the whole wide world. Up the Harvest!

    • WomenWine says:

      Thanks for chiming in. The article was just about CA winemakers in conjunction with CA Wine Month (September). Harvest is a ‘universal’ experience – down to the drinking of beer!


  2. Mark Capalongan says:

    Arranging schedules and commitments with the rest of life so that there is a clean calendar going into harvest and crush. Its the most exciting time of year, filled with non-stop activities and splendid aromas. Before the fun starts, I take one last weekend to waterski- a ritual to close the summer and move into fall.

  3. Barbara Nugent says:

    Fun, original article. Nice work Julie!

  4. Michelle McDonald says:

    My uncle, Jerry Higgins, started a private vinyard in Lexington, Virgina – Maple Swamp Vinyard and has started a yearly tradition of having a reunion of friends and family for the yearly harvest which he and his wife start planning the day after; threrefore, making it an event for which the planning begins a year in advance. My uncle and mom come from a family of 8 and of those 8 siblings, many of their children are married and have families of their own. The harvest has become a weekend long event at which family and friends begin decending upon the mountains of Virginia the week before. The actual harvest is on the Saturday and Friday night is spent getting together and enjoying the prior year’s product, good food and good company. The morning of the harvest begins with a huge breakfast set up in a tent at the top of the hill which is home to his yummy grapes. Once breakfast is over, the 100 + of us start to go to different areas; those of which include picking, gathering and transporting the picked grapes, sorting through the product and of course, a stomping station. Once the work is over, everyone gathers around a bon fire and there is a mixture of some good old blue grass music and later on the DJ comes out and kareoke begins. Once things wind down, people head to their tents which are scattered all around his property. Sunday is spent gathering back at the house for breakfast and good-byes. After a day of recouping and relaxation, plans for next year begin. His retirement dream has become a yearly tradition that continues to grow and be the highlight for friends and family who have scatteded around the coutry and otherwise do not get to see eachother as often as they would like.

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