The Kenwood Press
: 09/01/2014

Harvest arrives early

George MacLeod

By the time this story has gone to press and you are reading it, all of our Sauvignon Blanc will have been picked and will be on its way to another great vintage. In the 35-plus harvests we’ve been through here, this is one of the earliest. Normally, we pick Sauvignon Blanc around the first week of September, but this has been a very different year. The drought has caused us to be very stingy and careful with water, yet in spite of this, the bunches are larger than normal. Sauvignon Blanc bunch weight is typically .25 to .3 lbs per bunch. This year there are many bunches weighing .35 lbs each. This could cause more weight or yield per acre. We will have to wait until after harvest to see if this has indeed caused a larger than expected yield.

It should not surprise you that earlier in the year we audited the vineyard. Our method is to count the bunches every tenth vine on every fifth row. Our customers order specific quantities and want to know exactly how many tons they are buying. But the vineyard does not grow grapes exactly by the ton. So what we have been trying to do over the past five years is to sell our grapes by the vineyard block, rather than by the ton.

Now the crop yield varies each year, as our farming practices are geared to ultimate quality, not yield size. So the disadvantage to selling grapes by vineyard block is that the customer may get a little more or a little less tonnage than they wanted. But they get the benefit of knowing exactly where in the vineyard their grapes are grown. Plus, their winemakers have the benefit of having us implement some specific growing procedures for their grapes.

We have had a few clients who have taken the grapes from specific blocks for many years, so we’ve gotten pretty good at it. To try to keep track of who gets what from where, we put a lot of colored flagging around the vineyard. Since our harvest crew is paid by the ton, if you are not paying great attention, your picking crews will pick any bunch of grapes or rows that are not nailed down. There can be some 50 men picking at the same time, all shouting encouragement and rushing at top speed to fill the bins. This goes so fast during harvest that the grower and his team cannot afford even a few moments of inattention. Imagine if the crew picking the blue-flagged area for customer Blue suddenly picked half of the red-flagged grapes destined for client Red! The old Patron might be in for some delicate negotiations.

An important ranch anniversary

This Sept. 9, California Admission Day, we will mark our 40th anniversary of the day we discovered and bought this wonderful ranch. It was 1974 when the discovery team of George, Greta, daughter Noel, and son John – after spending all morning seeing dried up, dusty, semi-abandoned acreage all around Sonoma – were ready to call it quits and drive away. The realtor finally said there was a new listing a little north of here in a small town called Kenwood. We headed out but could not get into the ranch because the entry lane was overgrown by blackberries, poison oak and young eucalyptus trees.

So we had to go back and around and enter through the neighboring Geib ranch. As we drove in among the low lying grass covered hills there was a gentle welcoming ambiance in the air. My wife Greta says she heard a voice … “Greta, pay attention – you will live here.” We discovered the burned down site of the pioneer barn and dwelling. There were broken down and overgrown fruit trees. There were two large water tanks riddled with bullet holes, piles of bailing wire, abandoned farm equipment and lots of pure abandoned ranch junk. But each piece we picked up was in itself a touching discovery with a story of its own. In the fields you could see ridges in the soil marking where ancient vineyards had been.

We continued exploring until we reached Sonoma Creek, the ranch’s north boundary. Here was a lovely clear bubbling stream with green grass growing on its banks and wild grapevines growing here and there. We were totally unprepared to discover something this beautiful. Within days we had completed negotiations and bought this lovely 50-acre parcel. The 40 years since then are indeed their own story as we picked up stones, planted grapes, built our home, new barn, cleared brush, hauled debris to the dump, learned to grow great grapes, and make distinctive wines. Our family has grown from the original six – George and Greta and the four children – to some 24 members. I say, “Way to go MacLeods … bring on the next 40 years!”

Big news: A new great-grandson

Grandson Jacob’s wife Laura gave birth to a brand new baby on July 22. They have named this great-grandson Jackson Oliver Keller – the Oliver is after my mother Olive. But even more important, the boy was born with a distinct smile on his face and from time to time a tiny laugh in his sleep! His father Jacob had the same tiny smile when he was born. I think this tiny smile is an important armor in this difficult world. Welcome aboard, baby Jackson.