Two hours into picking sauvignon blanc grapes, 11-year-old Sarah's hands are numb. Her mom, Gail Judge, is a row over and well ahead, seemingly at one with the clippers.
Gail's husband, Joe, blue bandanna around his head, runs the show, loading 40-pound bins full of ripened grapes into a horse trailer for transport later to Napa.
"This family thing, it's cool," Joe said. "It's the building of a legacy."
Son Blake, 17, who plans to study viticulture in college, breaks up the hard work by goofing off with his cousin Miles, who is clipping the same row.
It's 9 o'clock in the morning on a densely foggy fall day in Bennett Valley, the kind for which the appellation is famous, and the Judges are racing against the clock, trying to ensure their just-picked grapes won't have to sit around in any later-day heat.
But they also have other things to do. Soon Joe will head to his office at Morgan Stanley, and the kids will make it to school.
"It's all a juggling act trying to make this happen," said Gail. "It's like putting on a big party, all the advance preparation, the details to remember, but you have to do it a bunch of times."
This is harvest, en famille. This time of year, when the grapes need picking, dozens of mom-and-pop operations are slugging it out the old way, relying on their own physical labor and early-morning wake-ups to get through crush.
Judge Family Vineyards is planted to 9.5 acres of several varietals - sauvignon blanc, sauvignon musque, syrah and grenache. The grapes go to such wine brands as Ferrari-Carano, Schug, Novy and Tor Kenward Family Wines.
The sauvignon blanc they're picking this day will be delivered promptly to Luc Morlet, Staglin Family's winemaker, who also makes a small amount of wine under his own name.
The Judges are just one among many mom and pops in Bennett Valley, though their appellation also has its share of big guys, namely Kendall-Jackson, whose sprawling crew of pickers can be heard in the distance.
Joe Judge says he and his family have benefited from the help of fellow husband-and-wife teams Wells and Mary Wagner, the owners of nearby Sylvan Hills Vineyards, who supply chardonnay to Stags Leap; Brett Raven and Diane Kleinecke of Frostwatch Vineyard, who will soon be launching their own label; and Ken Hunt and Suzanne Madsen, the growers of Nolan Vineyards, which supplies syrah to Matanzas Creek and La Crema.
"They're all within a rifle shot of where we are," said Joe. "Just mom and pops. We help each other, quid pro quo. Everyone has a tractor; it's kind of like the old days."
David Cooper and Virginia Morgan in Dry Creek Valley can relate. Back in 1996, the pair bought a run-down farmhouse at the corner of Dry Creek and Yoakim Bridge roads with four acres of dry-farmed zinfandel in desperate need of pruning.
"I knew something about making wine," remembered Cooper. "I didn't know squat about vineyards. I made a joke to Virginia to get anyone whose last name ends in a vowel and see what they're doing. When they're plowing, I'm going to plow. When they pull their leaves, I'm going to pull our leaves, and unless there's a conspiracy, that's how I'm going to learn how to farm, and that's what I did."
Disaster Preparedness Tips
Major natural disaster threats on the North Coast include earthquakes, floods, wildfires and landslides. All of which allow for less immediate advance planning than hurricanes, which is what makes it so important that residents take preparedness seriously, officials say.
Here’s what Sonoma County emergency coordinators recommend:
- Sign up for SoCoAlert at socoalert.com to learn about emergencies and evacuation orders as they happen directly from first responders.
- Have an emergency evacuation plan.
- Purchase a NOAA weather radio to get alerts about storms at the same time emergency responders do.
- Practice taking cover beneath sturdy furniture and holding on in case of an earthquake, and teach children how to do it.
- Prepare an emergency supply kit with at least five days worth of food, water and medical supplies. Don’t forget about emergency pet supplies.
- Consider signing up for Community Emergency Response Team training, which teaches enrollees how to respond in emergencies. For more information on signing up, contact your local fire department.