Windsor Celebrates Hop harvest
As vineyard workers gathered the season’s wine grapes, Windsor’s Historical Society and Museum celebrated the county’s bygone hop harvest era on Sept. 5.
The hop harvest and the polenta dinner in February are the Historical Society’s two biggest fundraisers.
About a dozen people picked the green, aromatic Cascade hop cones from the bines growing at the Historical Society and Museum’s property on Foxwood Drive.
The time-consuming task of separating the hop cones from leaves and stems was done by hand until a picking machine was invented, Historical Society president Stephen Lehmann said. At a penny a pound, a worker picking manually could earn $2 for each bag he filled with hops.
The state’s record for the most hops picked by hand in a day - 410 pounds - was set in Sacramento until James Hayes of Sebastopol picked 614 pounds between 4 a.m. and 7 p.m. in September 1897 at Gannon’s yard. In addition to his wages, Hayes got $5 from Ed Gannon and $5 from the Hop Growers Association, according to a news article in the San Francisco Call
The hop fields, many of them 50-acre plots, in the Forestville, Healdsburg and Windsor area and along the Russian River were serviced by an 8-stack hop kiln on Wohler Ranch, the largest one in the area until a fire reduced it to six stacks.
The county’s hop hey day lasted until just after World War II, Lehmann said as he picked the hops.
“Once the picking machine came, you could move to 1,000 acres,” Lehmann said. Other reasons were given for the demise of the hop industry
“After World War II, hoppiness fell out of favor. More women were drinking beer and they didn’t like the taste. And there was a powdery mildew they said you couldn’t get rid of,” Lehmann said.
The bitter hop flavor is back in favor in many of the craft beers in Sonoma County’s and the country’s growing craft beer industry.
John Burton, who owns the Santa Rosa Bartending School, brought some the antique beer bottles and cans from the late 1800s and 1900s that he has been collecting since 1985 to the Windsor Hop Harvest and Heritage Day celebration.
“It’s wonderful they are improving beers and trying everything,” he said of the nascent craft brewers.
“But the alcohol content is scary,” Burton said. “Some craft beers have 10-12 percent alcohol content. One of those beers equals two or three Budweisers. It’s hard to teach responsible (bartending) service. Once you get to 9-10 percent, it’s not about the taste. It’s about the kick,” Burton said.
Normally Lehmann makes and serves beer from the hops that were picked the day of annual Hop Harvest in September, but this year he offered last year’s brew with the ham luncheon to the crowd at the Hop Harvest.
“I usually make three batches every year,” he said.
But it takes work. And on a 90-degree day, one would rather enjoy a cold beer than make one.
Contact Windsor Towns Correspondent James Lanaras at WindsorTownNews@gmail.com.
Chili Cookoff planned in Cloverdale
Vineyard Hills Christian Church is hosting a chili cookoff from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at the Citrus Fairgrounds, 1 Citrus Fair Drive