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Journey to Harvest… and beyond

Journey to Harvest… and beyond


By Squire Fridell

En Homage — George MacLeod — 1921 to 2018. The author of the popular Kenwood Press column, “Journey to Harvest,” passed away peacefully at home on Jan. 21, 2018, at the age of 96 ½ years.

The above announcement appeared in print in early 2018, shortly after the devastating 2017 firestorms that burned parts of the MacLeod family home and vineyards at Indian Springs Ranch.

George MacLeod was a remarkable man: a husband, a father of four, a grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather to five. He was a Stanford graduate (MS in Geophysics), worked for Standard Oil exploring for oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico, and as a Silicon Valley pioneer working for Monsanto, engineering and developing early LED technology. In 1974, George, his wife Greta, and their family decided to parlay his successes into an “early retirement” and relocation. They found 50 rocky hillside acres overlooking Kenwood, and started to build their home on their newly named land: Indian Springs Ranch. George then took his passions in a different direction and became an early Sonoma Valley grape-grower (“exactly 16,500 vines” if you asked him). George was always proud to announce his age (“96 ½”) and the fact that he “never slept in one single day of his life.” He was truly a renaissance man, living in a different era.

George MacLeod was also a neighbor, friend, and mentor.

I first met George through Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance. George was their first president and I proudly served two terms as president years later. We had that in common. We were also both transplants from “another place” to Sonoma Valley. (In 1986, my wife and I and our baby daughter relocated to 25 acres of raw hillside land near Glen Ellen.) The MacLeods and Fridells both built our homesteads, both planted and grew grapevines; we loved the land, we loved a good story, and we both loved a glass of fine wine. Many’s the afternoon we’d sit together and talk of things that mattered: family, the love of the land, our passion for growing grapes. We’d lament the diminishing number of small families that still owned and operated grape-growing and wine making endeavors.

George was a profound influence in my life.

He was the author of “Journey to Harvest,” a wonderful account of the trials and joys of life as a grape farmer. He asked me to write one of his pieces for the Kenwood Press a few years back and I enjoyed the process. (He was the very first to phone me the morning the edition was out with his kudos and congratulations.) After George passed on, Melissa Dowling, the new owner of the Kenwood Press, recently asked if I’d like to write the bi-monthly column. I said I would be honored, and I’d do my best to try and fill some awfully big (and greatly admired) shoes.

So… in honor of the memory of George MacLeod, here you go!

First decision: what to call this bi-monthly column…? Suzy and I thought it would be fitting (in tribute to George) to call it “Journey to Harvest,” but to add “…and Beyond.” Why? Because, like George, we are grape farmers (“Journey to Harvest”), but I am also a winemaker (“…and Beyond”). (In 2005, the MacLeod Family began having some of their fruit made into wine, off premises under the MacLeod label, but George would be the first to tell you that he was not the maker of the wine.) What I hope to bring to this column is a chronological glimpse of what it is like for a small vineyard and winery operation to try and grow the best wine grapes for our location, to process those wine grapes into the best juice possible, to magically transform that juice into terrific wine, and then to market that wine successfully. For a small, family-owned and operated endeavor where we do it all, the process requires the wearing of many “hats” during the year… sometimes wearing more than one “hat” during each of those days of the year.

So, you say: “It’s the middle of winter and the grapevines are asleep! What could you possibly be doing right now?”

Late February and March, it’s time to put on my “Vineyard Hat.” This is the window of time that is devoted to pruning those dormant (yet seemingly out-of-control), willy-nilly grapevine canes in preparation for the upcoming growth period and harvest. (Harvesting our rose and white varieties usually starts at the beginning of September. We’ll harvest the reds toward the middle of October.) For the sake of space, we’ll talk about pruning those grapevines in the next issue.

March is also the time to switch “hats,” from my “Vineyard Hat” to my “Winemaker Hat.” On March 5 this year, we will take our 2020 rose, viognier, and chardonnay, and begin the extremely complicated process of putting those wines into glass bottles, inserting corks, spinning on foil capsules, and affixing labels to each bottle. The biggest challenge to making all the above happen on March 5. Working hard during many prior months in preparation for that day, to make sure 3/5/21 will be a success.

We’ll talk about bottling and those necessary bottling preparations in a subsequent issue.

So please raise a glass of fine Sonoma Valley wine tonight with Suzy and me, smell the lovely fragrances of our Valley in that glass, and think of all the efforts made by so many men and women (wearing many “hats”) that went into growing the grapes and making that wine in your glass.

Then just drink it!

“This one’s for you, George!”