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This 2014 vintage is my first harvest with Small Vines Wines, and as an assistant to two very knowledgeable and friendly owners, Paul and Kathryn Sloan, I have had the opportunity to experience and be exposed to every aspect of the harvest process; sampling, planning, picking, harvesting, sorting and repeat. Many people have heard horror stories of zombie-like winemakers and grape growers going through the crush process, but few people are able to see some of the behind-the-scenes of what goes into each and every bottle of wine.

Paul sampling

It all begins here, when the grapes transform colors from green to purple, this is the beginning signs of veraison, the onset of ripening, and an indicator that the crush is approaching. At this time, we begin to count clusters, sample grapes, drop fruit and analyze. I am lucky enough to have two very knowledgeable and helpful sidekicks, Dakota and Savannah Sloan, who have more experience than me at the ages of 11 and 8 respectfully. This sampling process happens more frequently as we approach our estimated picking dates.

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On any typical day during harvest, you can find me up and on the road before the first sign of the sun peaking over the Mayacama Hills to the east of Santa Rosa. When collecting samples, it’s ideal to sample in the early morning when the grapes are cool, which will give an accurate representation to when we pick, as we hand harvest our grapes in the middle of the night. While out sampling, It is essential to always have with me a pack of gallon size zip-lock bags, a pair of pruning sheers, a black sharpie, some water, an ice chest to keep the samples cool and of course my cell phone with GPS accurate directions and vineyard maps to identify our vineyards and differentiate the clones.

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These days begin to blur and become a routine of traveling from vineyard to vineyard and walking row by row. In order to get a varied sample with an accurate reading of degrees brix (sugar levels) and taste profile, you must collect grapes from all areas of a vineyard. No skipping out or shortcuts here whatsoever.  This is an extremely crucial task during harvest as these are the numbers we schedule our picking around. After we read the degrees brix from the samples, we taste and analyze. Wine is a mix between art and science, and with Small Vines Wines we incorporate both to create some of the best wines in the area.


Being in the wine industry, you look forward to the long hours of fall as the leaves change colors and the grapes turn to wine, but every year is different. This year being a rarity of record early picks in such a condensed and short amount of time it has been a lot of work, but it all pays off when you taste that fresh Pinot Noir or Chardonnay juice turning into wine- this is what we live for.


We were pleased to welcome writer Elaine Chukan Brown from the fantastic blog, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, to Small Vines Wines for fruit thinning and wine tasting with our very own Vigneron, Paul Sloan, and co-owner, Kathryn Sloan.

Elaine has become one of the most recognized names in the wine and food blogging world with her wine review blog, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. She recently has been named by Imbibe Magazine an Imbibe 75 “Person to Watch”, as well as becoming a Best Food Blog Award Finalist by Saveur Magazine. Her amazing work has been recommended several times by The New York Times Diner’s Journal, and in both The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.  Her wine blog has been a finalist in six categories at the Wine Blog Awards including the 2014 Wine Blog Awards Best Overall Wine Blog.

As the morning West Sonoma County fog slowly burned away, we greeted Elaine at our Barlow Homestead Vineyard. Little did she know, we had plans to begin fruit thinning our vineyards that day. With a camera around her neck, pruning shears in one hand and a pencil and notebook in the other, off we walked into our High-Density Pinot Noir Barlow Homestead Vineyard for the first fruit thinning pass of over 25 hand vine care passes.


Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown


Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown


Fruit thinning is a method grape growers use in order to better ripen their grape clusters and ensure a higher quality thus creating a complex wine. They do this by evaluating each vine and meticulously dropping the fruit (cutting excess clusters) and leaving them on the ground below to decompose and provide more nutrients for the vines. Timing is crucial, and this method is best done during the beginning stages of veraison, the signal that harvest is between 45 to 60 days away.

Impeccably low-yields (per vine) are vital to improved wine quality in Pinot Noir- and balanced wines are made more easily and more naturally from balanced vines. Small Vines follows the Grand Cru standards from Burgundy, which allows only two grape clusters per shoot, a maximum of 8 shoots per vine and never more than 16 clusters per vine. At a mere 1-2 pounds per vine- a low-vigor, high-density vineyard balances each vine at lower yields, naturally. These small vines produce tiny cluster that have tiny, thick-skinned berries creating concentration and amazing structure in the wines.

After a thorough explanation and demonstration by Paul Sloan, Elaine grasped the sheers and began cautiously sifting through the vine’s shoots. This process can be very nerve-racking for ANY viticulturist due to the anxiety of “throwing away” perfectly good fruit that looks healthy and beautiful just for the sake of exceptional wine quality.

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Small Vines Wines would like to thank Elaine from Hawk Wakawaka for her visit. We love to share our passion for our vineyards and wines and we welcome all who would love to come learn and taste our hand-crafted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rosé of Pinot Noir. For a tasting and vineyard tour with our vigneron, be sure to set up and schedule an appointment at 707-823-0886 or

Photo Credit: Elaine Chukan Brown