Reynoso Vineyard

Reynoso Rows at Ritchie Vineyard

Harvest season is upon us here at Crescere, as it is for most California wineries during this time of year. Even though we’ve got many successful harvests under our belt, we’re always very attuned to the urgency, excitement, and expectation that this important annual milestone brings as we gather the fruit from vines we’ve been tending all year long. 

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day at a vineyard and winery during harvest time to see how the wines you love come to be, we invite you to join us here for a special day of picking and processing our Ritchie Sauvignon Blanc! We’re excited to walk you through the journey the grapes make as they transition from vine to barrel, with an ultimate destiny to be your tableside companion, brightening your day and bringing you to Sonoma with every sip from your glass.

Picking Fruit

Crescere vineyard crew members, working to carefully pick Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Our crew wakes early, long before sunrise, and heads down to the famed Ritchie Vineyard. When Kent Ritchie first planted this site, he planted largely Chardonnay with a bit of Pinot Noir. But he also planted roughly 5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, indiscriminately amongst the Chardonnay. The vines have now been there for 48 years, so the yields they produce are quite tiny, but that’s what makes the juice from these grapes so concentrated, elegant and frankly so different from most of the Sauvignon Blanc being made in California today. The Ritchie Vineyard is famous because it sits on top of an old volcanic cindercone, which gives the wines produced from his grapes a singular mineral tone unlike anything else grown in the Russian River Valley. We feel fortunate to be able to source what we consider to be the greatest Sauvignon Blanc being grown in all of Sonoma. So, of course, we have to treat it properly.

Ritchie Vineyard

Ritchie Vineyard

We start picking around first light, so 6:30 or so. Running two crews of roughly 10 pickers per crew, each with one tractor driver and one leaf picker on their team, they quickly get to work to harvest the grapes in the cool of the morning. Deftly, each picker moves down the line with their knife and a bandeja, a plastic tub that holds about 40 pounds of grapes. 

Grapes into bins

Our vineyard crew loading grapes into bins behind the tractor.

When the bandeja is full, they dump their collected grapes into the half-ton bins behind the tractor. Meanwhile, the leaf pullers remove any leaves (clever name for the job, no?), MOG (matter other than grapes), as well as any bunches that are not optimal. While there will be further culling down the line to ensure the quality of the finished product you receive, it all begins here. Once all the half-ton bins are full, they are loaded onto a truck and brought into the winery. The reason we pick in the morning is so that the grapes are still cold when they arrive at the winery. This is vital because hot fruit can cause fermentation problems. 

Here you can see Matt Ward of the Atelier Melka making sure that everything is going smoothly. He will be overseeing the press cycle as well.

When making our white wines, the fruit is unloaded into a hopper with an elevator that brings the bunches up and into the opening of our press. For those of you who like to get into all the details, the type of press we use is a “bladder” type press. A bladder press is a style in which there is a sausage shaped balloon in the center of a large cylinder that can slowly and softly expand.

During the press cycle, the balloon “blows up” and gently presses the grapes against the sides of the press and the juice flows out of holes in the cylinder, draining into a pan underneath, and from there it flows into a stainless steel tank. We prefer this type of press as it is very gentle, never bruising the fruit, or crushing the seeds which can impart a bitter flavor we (and you) wouldn’t want. 

Here is the press cycling through its rotations.

The cycle we favor is a looooong, slooooow “Champagne” cycle. What does this mean? Well, during this two to three hour cycle, the balloon expands and then contracts several times. The cylinder makes one and a half rotations after each contraction so that the grapes are all pressed evenly. 

Pressed Sauvignon Blanc Grapes

Here is what the grape bunches look like after they’ve been pressed.

We taste the juice as it comes through (the first glimpse of what the future wine may hold), and as we draw closer to the end of the cycle, we continuously taste the juices that continue to flow so that we can monitor the flavors. If or when we begin to get unwanted flavors — (in white wines this can tend to come off as a sort of chalky note) — we make a “press cut,” and end the press cycle, cutting the flow of the juice.

Pressed Juice

 Yes, that is what freshly pressed Ritchie Sauvignon Blanc looks like!  It isn’t very pretty at this point in the process, but it looks and smells divine and promises to make a beautiful wine again this year.

Now that we have the juice we want, we allow it to settle in our glycol-chilled tanks, usually for about two days. After the wine has settled, it’s drained into Ermitage cigar barrels for fermentation, which is one of the key differences between our Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and most others. Cigar barrels are a very particular shape—longer and flatter, more like a cigar, than a traditional barrel. After alcoholic fermentation occurs, we transfer about a third of the wine to stainless steel barrels for aging, while the other two thirds remain in the cigar barrels. The special shape of the barrel increases the amount of juice that comes in contact with the lees. This additional contact results in a richer, more textured wine.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this insider’s look into how Crescere’s white wines come to be, from grapevine to barrel. The procedures for processing red wine grapes are a bit different, so stay tuned for Part Two of this series, where we give you a peek into that unique process!