The Secret Ingredient in Every Harvest: Beer

When your hands are stained red, a cold one is all you want at the end of the day
Sep 12, 2012

It's half-past September and do you know what California winemakers are drinking?


No, it's not a joke. There's an old saying, in fact: "It takes a lot of beer to make wine."

Harvest is moving into high gear and, at least in California, beer becomes the drink of choice.

"I can't imagine digging out a fermentor at the end of a long day and reaching for a glass of red wine afterward," said winemaker Erik Miller of Kokomo Winery in Sonoma County. Fellow Dry Creek winemaker Clay Mauritson raised a glass of suds in agreement, "The further we get into harvest and the more tanks that are fermenting, the more you want a cold beer."

In Napa, Duckhorn winemaker Bill Nancarrow put it this way, "Tasting grapes and fermenting fruit juice all day sets your palate up for a couple of 'cleansing ales' at the end of the day."

It makes sense when you think about it. After the indulgence of Thanksgiving weekend, the last thing you want to eat is turkey, right? After a series of decadent meals earlier this summer, all I wanted to eat the first night off was a bowl of Cheerios. Many chefs late at night crave something simple like eggs or sneak off for a Big Mac or Burrito Supreme.

And let's be clear, winemakers aren't guzzling beers all day at harvest any more than they're knocking back hearty glasses of wine at work the rest of the year. Some winemaking teams head out to a local pub after work while others keep the refrigerator stocked, or even a keg on ice. "A cold beer seems to be the right moral builder for the crew after a long day," Miller said.

Every cellar seems to have its favorite. Nancarrow said Duckhorn's "unofficial beer sponsor is Pabst Blue Ribbon." Miller said two Northern California brews—Lagunitas IPA and Bear Republic's Racer 5—are the Kokomo house favorites, while Mauritson's crew likes Lost Coast Great White, among others.

Over at Kosta Browne, Dan Kosta said that in the old days he and partner Michael Browne preferred Coors Light, but his young crew now prefers something heartier. "Nowadays, Death and Taxes is currently on tap," Kosta said of a regionally popular black beer produced by Moonlight Brewing. "And there's some vodka in the freezer for the real tough days!"

"Beer," Donald Patz of Patz & Hall winery said, "can be a refreshing and renewing beverage after a long, hot, thirsty day of winemaking. And an Advil."


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