Harvest is undoubtedly the most exciting time of the year in Napa Valley. Our Test Kitchen Manager, Dan Gora, sat down with Winemaker Isadora Frias to get her unique perspective on this special time of year. Read their chat below.
Dan: Why did you become a winemaker?
Isadora: By accident! I was in college for engineering; I hadn’t worked in wine before. My school went on strike. To take advantage of this extra time, I decided to participate in a harvest abroad, in the Barossa Valley, in southern Australia. A friend of mine worked a harvest, and she had a blast.
I absolutely loved it. It was my first experience in winemaking ever and I got “showered with wine”. I worked 6 days a week for 2 months with almost no days off. This was at a time in my life when I wanted to travel and practice my English, so it was a great opportunity for me to immerse myself in the field.
After that harvest, I went back to Brazil and finished engineering school. For the next 5 years, I traveled all over the world working harvests. I would work 2-3 harvests a year, in different wine regions, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. By that time, I fell in love with winemaking, so I decided to go back to school. I got my master’s at UC Davis in Viticulture & Enology. I’ve been in California ever since!
Dan: What is it about the harvest season that is so special?
Isadora: There’s a special type of energy during the season. One of my favorite things about it is the morning visits to the vineyard. You get to walk and taste the fruit; you can start to imagine what the wine can become. On the day of the harvest, we bring the fruit to the winery and taste the juice – all of the team’s hard work comes together at this time. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also very fulfilling. People often think the growing season starts in the early spring of that year. In reality, it is the work done in the vineyard up to 2 years prior that affects that year’s harvest. There is so much that goes into the care of the vines that impacts the wine in the bottle.
Dan: Can you tell us about a typical “day in the life” of a winemaker during harvest from sunrise to sunset?
Isadora: Every day during the harvest season is different. But first things first, coffee.
In the mornings, I often visit vineyards. I keep a close eye on the weather and monitor sugar levels in grapes to decide when to pick. If we pick that day, I’ll need to be onsite at the winery to receive the fruit. We’ll have a quick meeting with the team to sync on what the plan is for the day: sorting, destemming, crushing, and getting the juice into the fermentation tanks…all in one day!
I try to sit down and eat lunch with the team when I get back to the property. We spend a lot of time on our feet during this time of year, but it’s important to rest and stay connected.
After lunch, we often taste the fermentations, check temperatures, make additions (yeasts, nutrients, etc.), and figure out what we need to do that day to each wine. One example of this is doing “pumpovers” in the fermentation tanks. This is when you pump the juice, from the bottom of the tank, onto the skins that rise to the top of the tanks to extract tannins and color.
Next it’s barrel work, cleanup of the cellar, emails, and focus time in the lab to get caught up with everything else happening in the winery. I’ll likely be out in the vineyards the next day, so I’m usually planning for the next “pick” and writing work orders for the cellar.
Bottling also happens during this time of year, so we will bring out a mobile bottling line on the crush pad for this. These days are usually all hands on deck and a lot of our team members across different departments pitch in to help.
By the end of the day, I’m usually happy and tired. All you want to do is crack a beer open. Most winemakers will tell you that it takes a lot of good beer to make a great wine. I’m constantly tasting so much wine throughout the day and a cold beer is all I want to drink!
Dan: What’s your favorite “wine of the season” right now?
Isadora: For me, it’s all about Rosé and Fume Blanc! Our California Vintner Rose is my go to this time of year. It’s so hot, and they’re both so refreshing and great for that late summer / early fall heat. Next is the Fume Blanc–that’s just a classic that I always love any time of the year. It’s exclusively available to our 20/20 Collective.
Dan: What is a cause you are most passionate about supporting?
Isadora: I have two.
First, anything that helps research and the fight against cancer. I lost my dad to cancer when I was really young. It was seven months from the time he got diagnosed to the time he passed away. I have many family members and friends that have suffered so for me, that’s one cause that I really want to move the needle on helping find the cure.
Second, anything related to water. I think water is my element. If I’m not at the winery, you can usually find me in an ocean or a pool. But on a more serious note, access to clean water is important to me. It’s crazy to think that there are so many people around the world who still don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water. We raised almost half a million dollars for charity:water last year at our Harvest Party. I’m really proud that ONEHOPE has supported that specific cause. We have a big milestone that we are celebrating at this year’s Harvest Party. Keep your eyes and ears open in the coming weeks for a special announcement from our founders.