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Beyond the Glass: “My Experience Harvesting Pinot Noir”

Russian River Valley Vineyard During Harvest

Warmer weather is finally on the horizon, and we’re already working on our springtime wine list. You’ll find us reaching for light, drinkable reds like Pinot Noir, a classic springtime wine thanks to its ripe fruit, bright acidity, and elegant tannins. 

It’s easy to get so lost in a great glass of Pinot Noir that you forget how much happens behind the scenes to create it. That’s why we asked one of our 90+ Cellars team members, Leah Nebbett, to share her experience working the 2020 harvest. Leah spent two months in Sonoma last fall before joining our team  and while her hands and clothes were often stained, it was all worth the long hours.  

Scheduled to fly out from New York at the end of August, Leah’s trip started on a sobering note when it was delayed due to the raging California wildfires. Luckily, she was cleared in early September to join the rest of the team in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, where she hit the ground running.  

A Day in the Life... 

“A typical day during harvest would start with a drive to the winery just as the sun was coming up,” Leah said. “This was one of my favorite parts of the day, as I would drive down the winding roads surrounded by vineyards blanketed in fog. Sometimes the fog was so thick it felt like you were in the clouds. Starting the day bundled up only to shed a few layers by the afternoon was common practice because in the Russian River Valley, the temperature would change by as much as 40 degrees in just a few hours!” 

On any given day (during which they could receive up to 100 tons of fruit!), Leah found herself doing a huge range of tasks, including:

  • Overseeing the separation of high quality grapes from stems, raisins, etc.

  • Draining Pinot Noir tanks — during which she received her fair share of wine showers (a rite of passage) — and transferring the wine into oak barrels. This separates the wine from the skins, and the "clean wine" goes into a new tank.

  • Digging out the skins and seeds left in the tanks after draining to be pressed. Leah said this was the toughest job in the winery, but was worth it. You get another tank filled with wine from this process!

  • "Racking," or transferring the wine from the steel tanks into the oak barrels using a pump and hefty hose. 

  • Topping off the Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc barrels. Barrels aren't completely airtight, and as fermentation processes, a bit of wine can evaporate and create extra space in the barrels. Topping them off limits the wine's contact with oxygen.

  • Steaming, rotating, and rinsing barrels.

  • Taking samples from the 2019 Pinot Noir barrels. 

  • And of course, lots and lots of cleaning!

Russian River Valley Pinot... 

“The cool climate of the Russian River Valley is one of the key reasons Pinot Noir does so well in this area; because the valley is so close to the Pacific Coast, those warm, sunny periods during the day are moderated by cool, coastal fog. This allows the grapes to slowly ripen over time and maintain their natural acidity, resulting in a well-balanced wine,” Leah said.

The experience made Leah appreciate wine even more than before, and she looks forward to continuing her education and adventures in wine with us! One of her favorite Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs is our Lot 75 Reserve Pinot Noir, which for under $20, she says is a total steal.

...And Around the World

Beyond the Russian River Valley, we encourage you to explore Pinot Noir from other amazing regions this spring. Try a little of everything, from Lot 179, a great everyday California Pinot Noir, to our Collector Series Lot 193 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. And of course, the Pinot Noir grape originated in Burgundy, so to taste an expression of the wine in its truest form, try Lot 160, a beautifully pure Bourgogne Rouge from the Côte d'Or. 

Check out our full portfolio of Pinot Noir wines at and follow along with Leah on Instagram, including a full rundown of Harvest 2020 in her Highlights. 


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