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Harvest prep: trucking barrels to the winery

The 2016 winemaking season has been particularly exciting for the Terragena team because this has been the first year we were able to make all of our wine at our off-grid Humboldt County, CA winery.  As luck (and the weather) would have it, the grapes across Northern California were ready a bit early this year, which left us a rather short timeline for preparing the winery space for winemaking.  Major thanks go out to Michael and Maria for their organizational and cleaning skills; they took the space from cluttered/disorganized to spotless-and-winemaking-ready in record time.

We harvested our first fruit of the season from the Abbassi family vineyard in the early morning hours of August 19. Our winemaker/truckdriver/proprietor Chris was on site at 3am to pick up the grapes and bring them from the vineyard in the Sonoma Carneros region all the way up to our Humboldt winery.  Everything was on schedule and Chris and the chardonnay grapes were headed northward when, at about 7am around Healdsburg, things got interesting.


Chris and Michael transfer the chardonnay grapes from the vineyard truck to a rental.

The vineyard truck, though usually very reliable, was tired after so much use over the last month, and the clutch blew out. Chris managed to get the truck off the highway and to the parking lot of Exchange Bank in Healdsburg.  Fortunately, Chris knows a thing or two about cars, trucks, and mechanical things in general, so he quickly diagnosed the problem and realized that the vineyard truck was going nowhere anytime soon.*  He made some phone calls, and the rest of the Terragena team jumped in to help.  Before heading in to her job as a school psychologist, we secured a Penske truck rental and a pallet jack rental. Michael and Maria jumped in their car and headed south from the Humboldt winery to help Chris transfer the grapes from the vineyard truck to the rental.  And, with help from the folks at Exchange bank (who were awesome, in spite of the fact that our truck was blocking most of their parking lot) and Healdsburg Transmission, we were quickly back on our way to the winery with our chardonnay.


Chardonnay grapes from the Abbassi family vineyard in the Sonoma Carneros region

Only six hours behind schedule, Chris, Michael, and Maria set about sorting, crushing, and pressing the chardonnay.  The juice – which smelled and tasted like pineapples – was put straight into oak barrels for fermentation.

Have you ever seen grapes being crushed? You might be thinking of bare feet stomping them, and though we have done that before, in this case we used a mechanical crusher/destemmer to remove the stems while crushing the grapes.  This process gets the fruit ready to be pressed, meaning that the juice is separated from the skins and other fruit-solids.  To make a white wine, the juice is separated from the skins before fermentation, whereas red wines get their color from fermenting “on the skins,” meaning with the grape skins.

All in all, the Abbassi harvest adventure turned out quite well.  Chris was awake for about 24 hours, and Michael and Maria also worked through the night pressing all of the fruit.  We think the wine will be more than worth the work and exhaustion.  As of this post, the chardonnay is going through its second stage of fermentation, called malolactic fermentation.

Terragena Abbassi Vineyard Chardonnay Stats:
  • Sonoma Carneros AVA
  • Grapevines planted in 1976
  • 1.3 tons of grapes harvested by Terragena
  • wine made at Terragena estate winery in Humboldt County, CA
  • fermented and aged on 66% neutral oak
  • wine release date: spring/summer 2017

After a brief rest, the Terragena team jumped back into action to harvest pinot noir from the Seppa family vineyard in Sonoma County on August 25. No trucking (mis)adventures this time; it was all smooth sailing after the early morning harvest. Chris trucked the grapes up to our winery and the grapes were crushed and on their way to fermenting by later that evening.  We decided to experiment with this wine by testing out three different styles: 100% whole cluster, 50% whole cluster, and 0% whole cluster fermentations.  In this case whole cluster means that we left the stems of the grapes in the fermentation so as to extract some of the characteristics that the stems impart, such as more tannic structure and texture.  We are fascinated by whole-cluster style winemaking because it is a very traditional style; needless to say, several hundred years ago no one had mechanical destemmers.


Grapes on top of a 50% whole-cluster fermentation. The destemmed grapes on top create a blanket that allows some carbonic maceration of the whole clusters beneath, creating alcohol inside of the grapes via their own metabolism. This technique gives a unique fruity character to the wine.

Terragena Seppa Vineyard Pinot Noir Stats:
  • Petaluma Gap Region of the Sonoma Coast AVA
  • Seppa Vineyard is in the process of being certified as Sonoma Sustainable
  • 1.5 tons of grapes harvested by Terragena
  • wine made at Terragena estate winery in Humboldt County, CA
  • 100% whole cluster, 50% whole cluster, and 0% whole cluster small batches
  • aged in 33% neutral oak, 33% once used, and 33% new oak
  • wine release date: fall 2017

* In case anyone was really worried about the truck – you can relax. The awesome people at Healdsburg Transmission had it fixed up better than new within 24 hours.