I waited about seven months for October and my first glimpse of the bucolic Sonoma County harvest season.
Some of you may remember that I arrived as the editor of The Press Democrat in late February from the Kentucky bluegrass and Courier Journal newsroom in Louisville.
Almost immediately I heard one thing, repeated from Petaluma to Cloverdale in the last weeks of winter, throughout spring and into the last days of summer. It’s like, “Everything in Sonoma County revolves around harvesting our grapes. This is our decisive season.
I have crisscrossed the county for the past few months and have no doubts that the drive along Route 12 from Santa Rosa through Sonoma Valley is one of the most beautiful in Northern California. And less than a mile from my apartment near Cardinal Newman High School is a vineyard on a hill overlooking Old Redwood Highway. I’ve watched her progress – from green sprouts to plump grapes – on morning bike rides and evening walks.
I find inspiration among the leafy vines and the way the golden afternoon sun shimmers over these lush green fields.
It is safe to say that I have a deep appreciation for the rich agricultural heritage of this part of northern California, where over 60,000 of Sonoma County’s 1 million acres are dedicated to vineyards.
As a native of Ohio, my roots are quite literally in the agricultural country. My childhood home was surrounded by dairy farms, cornfields and extensive gardens. The coolest kids in the class wore blue corduroy jackets and were members of the Future Farmers of America club.
And, according to the “Really, I’m not kidding” file: Classmates from my high school in Coshocton County, east-central Ohio, drove family tractors to school during the week graduation ceremony.
Just seven years ago, I was editor and then editor of The Des Moines Register, the largest media site in a state of 3.15 million people – and 48 million pigs and over 2.5 billion bushels of corn harvested each year. Iowa’s unofficial mantra is “America needs farmers.”
Amen, we do.
And that’s why I asked Abby Peterson, Editor-in-Chief of Sonoma Magazine, to capture the pastoral moments that take place this time of year in this place we love. She also spent hours listening to and capturing reflections from winemakers intimately involved in the harvest season in Sonoma County.
Her thoughtful essay captures the ticking cadence of careful care that begins almost immediately after the last grapes of the previous season are cut from the vines and the fields become dormant until the cold days of early spring.
It’s also why Nashelly Chavez’s insightful review on worker safety involving thousands of workers doing back-breaking work is also released today. There would be no harvest season without the determined workers who clutter the fields long before dawn and move row by row, carefully removing the “berries” (as the winegrowers call them) that become the future bottles of the wine. best of Sonoma.
It’s a timely article as advocates’ demands to protect those who harvest only the fields will increase in the coming months, and Nashelly’s story analyzes what is being said among those in the wine industry and of the political arena.
Both are big stories in Sonoma County where the wine industry employs more than 50,000 full-time employees, is a magnet for tourism and stimulates our regional economy.
In fact, Jeff Hinchliffe, head winemaker at Hanna Winery in Healdsburg, calls wine “the benevolent dictator.”
The lives of so many people – from those who pick the fruit to those who make the wine and everyone else – “are at the mercy of the grapes,” he told Peterson.
“We live our life under the yoke of these photosynthetic monsters, and it gives flow to your life; a natural flow.
It’s that generations-old process of tending the fields, examining the grapes, tasting the fruit, filling the bins and starting the long winemaking process that I thought had to be captured in the stories of today.
Thanks to Abby and Nashelly for providing top notch work.
Their stories are the first of future essays on daily life in Northern California that we sometimes take for granted. Too often, the demands of the day and the lives masked in a health crisis prevent us from recognizing the importance, if not the beauty, of serene times in Sonoma County.
In the coming months, we’ll describe – maybe even introduce you to – these important passages here.
Sometimes the eyes of a curious newcomer who discovers the vineyards, redwoods, the roaring coast, wineries, communities, traditions and beauty of North Bay can see things that longtime residents miss.
Today we’re sharing a taste of the Sonoma County harvest.
Drop me a note and tell me what we should tackle next. I would like to receive your recommendations, although I share my own observations more.
Thanks, as always, for reading The Press Democrat and pressdemocrat.com.
Richard A. Green is our editor. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @EditorRAG