Lessons of the grape harvest

  • El Molino High student Kayla Ruiz works during the morning harvest at the schools vineyard.

The harvest began Thursday morning with 40 farmworkers and 40 high school students at a small vineyard on the campus of Forestville's El Molino High School.

Less than an hour later, five tons of pinot noir grapes rested in 20 huge plastic bins atop a flatbed truck. And most of the viticulture students had received their first lesson in picking grapes.

The youths had harvested 1,000 pounds, enough they learned to make about 375 bottles of wine. The migrant workers had gathered the other 9,000 pounds, then rumbled off in older-model cars to spend the rest of a warm summer day picking grapes near Cotati.

Asked what he would remember, El Molino junior Emmanuel Diaz, replied "How hard it is." He also made note of "the hot sun," which despite the morning hour already was too warm for his sweatshirt.

The school vineyard, slightly more than an acre in size, was developed about a decade ago. The first wine from its grapes was made in 2004.

Educators credit the vineyard's success partly to the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation.

On Thursday Steve Dutton, a foundation board member and part of the family that owns Dutton Ranch Corp., brought the farmworkers and his vineyard manager, Jeff Carlton, to help the students with the harvest.

"There's not many high schools in the nation where you can say I spent a period picking grapes," Dutton said.

In a few past years, some El Molino agriculture students have been able to help with the harvest, said ag teacher Lynn Scholten. But Thursday was the first time the viticulture class had been able to join in picking grapes.

Scholten said she hopes some of her students will choose a career in the wine industry. But she hopes all will have a greater appreciation for the farming they see going on throughout the county.

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