It’s early; the road is lit only by the headlights of passing cars and the occasional glow of farm machinery breaking through the fog. A silent row of cars has settled just inside the gate of Saarloos and Son’s El Camino Real Vineyard. No one is moving, tucked safely inside their cars, braced against a steady mist. Lights from the workers burning cigarettes can be seen but the 30 acres of vineyards, just a few feet away from the cars is covered in darkness. Then a low rumble, a sputter, the engine of a tractor turns over and its lights turn on, it’s time for harvest to begin.
The sun will rise in about an hour but the Saarloos family is already hard at work. Brothers Larry and Harvey Saarloos drive tractors down the rows of their vineyard. Followed by a team of workers who quickly pick ripe fruit from the rows and hand-load it into containers to be taken to the winery. Larry helps sort out leaves and twigs from the freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc grapes. “This is the difference between a cheap bottle of wine and a little more expensive one,” he says while sifting. The Saarloos family hand picks their grapes unlike other vineyards who harvest by machine. Larry estimates it takes about 50 man hours to pick cover the same amount of land a machine could do in six. But to him it’s worth it. Making sure it’s only the grapes that end up in their wine is important.
The Saarloos family values their good name and work to protect it. Their wines bear names that reflect on family history and their work in the field helps to ensure the quality of the grapes lives up to their creed; “We live to honor those that have come before us, and to prepare the way for those yet to come.” “I’ve always thought if your name was on the sign, then you would be working in the field,” said Keith Saarloos, Larry’s son and wine maker. “I love the craftsmanship that goes into farming, I love being able to point to something and say, look I made that.” He confesses that the anticipation of the harvest didn’t let him sleep much during the already truncated night.
Keith takes a handful of grapes and squeezes one. The meat and seed slip out of the skin. The juice is sticky sweet and ready to be made into wine. Knowing when the perfect combination of sugar content and ripeness is essential to growing good grapes. The sun is peaking over the horizon and burning through the clouds. The night harvest is over but the days work is still ahead. Covering the entire vineyard will keep the Saarloos family working until the sun sets again. From there it’s off to the winery and back to harvest more grapes.
Santa Ynez Valley Journal