Each year, the changing colors of the leaves in the vineyards signal a start to harvest. Not only is this a great chance to taste through the wines of last season, it is also a time for many winery guests to sample fresh pressed juice or tour a “crush” pad. I learned to use a refractor for the 1st time on a Sonoma County CRUSH tour.
During Crush season, it is also a terrific time to speak with winemakers, vineyard managers and owners and catch them all on site. Harvest is a hands-on experience with all staff members present and having their own individual role.
Learn the in and outs from picking the grapes, to de-stemming, to fermentation tanks and laboratory science, each step is made more interesting by the fact that the process is in full swing.
This year, I was invited by one of my favorite Family Owned Wineries to experience a Full Crush Tour of the vineyards & winery including a sit down lunch charcuterie plate food & wine pairing. Lovely as always at St Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California. Time for a day of LIVE #SonomaChat…
As soon as you arrive, the essentials are covered, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc is placed in hand. The group was greeted by none other than the CEO himself, Christopher Silva, with an overview of the winery and an introduction to Jake Terrell, Vineyard Manager. Jake would be walking us through the first stage of our day, the vineyards and grapes themselves, and was absolutely passionate and uber-knowledgeable about the land… Yay!
2014 was an early harvest and the tour took place in the first week of October. The syrah, cabernet and cabernet franc were still on the vine while many other varietals had already been removed.
The acres of vineyards which surround the Tasting Room at St Francis offer a large variety of grapes due to the various terroirs as well as a close proximity to the mountains behind them,located at the base of majestic Sugarloaf Ridge and Hood Mountain. This unique area creates differing climate pockets, each working well with their own particular varietals. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Syrah, Marsanne, Rousanne all living and working together.
Every year, crops are carefully planned and planted by viticulturists who study the soil, grape growth and winemaking itself. Which grape varietals that the vineyard manager and owners decide to plant is an investment in time and a gamble. Vineyard owners cannot be sure how any varietal will turn out until it is fully grown.
St Francis is famous for their micro-climates, and here in Sonoma County, being just a short distance behind a small hill or higher up in a fog-line can produce dramatically different grapes and wines.
We worked our way through acres of grapes to the winery beyond, located on the back of the property, away from the tasting room. There we met with Chris Louton, winemaker for St Francis and began the wine production side of the tour with a glance and breakdown of the laboratory. This is where the magic happens, or as some would call it “Science”.
I have toured “a few” wineries in my day. I know, surprising to my readers…insert sarcasm. Often times, the on-site laboratory consists of a bookcase and desk area in the corner of the facility. This was nothing like that.
With two lab techs working busily, the laboratory was large, impressive and had many new state of the art technology “gadgets” dedicated to the overall end product to make sure it tasted as balanced as possible. On to the crushing already…
As the truck pulled in with bin after bin after bin after…of grapes, we also watched as other bins were loaded into the hopper traveling to the conveyor belt. The destemming and sorting processes come next with lots of hands working through the frenzy as grapes continue to move down the line.
It is a very efficient process to watch, it seems that some of these staff members could do this in their sleep. Next we move to another part of the oevr 10,000 square foot facility to talk maceration and fermentation. Each tank has its own setup guidelines, custom for its size, varietal and location in the winery.
Each day, the juices in the tanks are monitored to make sure they are developing well, more trips to the laboratory as well as pours in the glass to test the aging of the newborn wine. I like big pours…
Moving to the barrel aging rooms next door where the grapes spend the majority of their time after being picked. Before going into those bottles of course.
The barrel room always has that lovely smell….don’t forget the wine too.
“What grows together, goes together.” says Chef Bryan Jones.
Voted America’s Best Restaurant in 2013 by Open Table voters, the experience is quite the memorable one to say the least. I have done the food & wine pairings on a few occasions as I live very close and am also lucky enough to have wonderful people in my corner and rooting for my nonprofit to succeed. For lunch today, we dined on a Chef prepared salad and charcuterie goodness.
Relaxing on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and sampling a flight of limited-production wines, paired with local cheeses, artisan charcuterie and seasonal accompaniments…Yes, please.
It’s the perfect way to enjoy a casual Sonoma Valley afternoon with friends. We were joined by Christopher Silva and Jake Terrell again and another big thanks to the CEO for pulling out the chocolate bar to pair with the Old Vine Zinfandel for some blonde who kept going on about how wonderful the pairing was… I cannot tell you how much I love the Zin paired with chocolate with sea salt and black pepper.
Heirloom Tomato Salad to begin followed by an assortment of local cheese, meats, fruits and other proteins. Paired with Chardonnay, Pinot, Old Vine Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. OK.
Time to walk off any extra calories with a tour of the garden, a “grocery shopping” trip for our “to go” bags full of veggies and a lesson about the “non-trellising” techniques and how the kitchen takes advantage of the produce on site.
We were provided with a wonderful history lesson from the CEO on the history of the winery and vineyards itself. I found it interesting to learn that St Francis had a lot of participation in the start of Merlot in California many years ago and are now starting to replant some vineyards and re-make these wines of old. I know I’m excited to start tasting this Merlot, And you?
Overall, my day, the experience, the people, the wines and the food were all on par with the best that Sonoma County has to give visitors to show off all that we have to offer in this bountiful tourist travel destination. Raising my glass to my next visit to St Francis.