Celebrating the harvest with Sonoma County vigneron Wayne Roden and his colleagues from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
The morning after the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its September 12 concert—the first in a four concert series at Green Music Center this season—a selection of orchestra members assembled for another kind of performance altogether, this one starting at 6:30 a.m. and involving pruners rather than tuners. The venue was a small vineyard just West of Cotati, on the farm of long-time San Francisco Symphony violist Wayne Roden and his wife, novelist Barbara Quick. Instead of the usual white tie and tails, the dress code for this performance was denim and sneakers. The highly-educated and accomplished harvest crew—including relatives and friends, fiddle players from SFS and a dog named Sophie—all showed up at the crack of dawn to help harvest and crush a bumper crop of Pinot noir.
The idea for the harvest party came about two years ago when Barbara convinced Wayne to do what they do in France during the vendange, when friends and family who help harvest the grapes are rewarded with a lavish feast afterwards.
Even though ARThound doesn’t play an instrument, I’d heard about the fun they had at the last harvest and was keen to hang out with these musicians, several of whom I’ve interviewed in the past couple of years. So, I too, was there—ready to lend a hand, to record the morning’s activities in a series of photos and, of course, to taste such delicacies as Barbara’s roasted heirloom tomato quiche, her heirloom tomato caprese, home-made pesto and amazingly sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, all of which came from her own garden harvest.
When Wayne first decided to move from San Francisco to Sonoma County, he was thinking about horses rather than grapevines. But the favorable meso-climate of the little farm he bought 25 years ago, as well as his appreciation for Sonoma County’s wonderful wines, inspired him to join the growing league of hobby wine-makers. With the help of his grown son, film-maker Sam Roden, he planted a tenth of an acre in Pinot noir and Pinot gris. Seven years later, he is now in the process of vinifying the sixth vintage of his wonderfully delicious, Burgundian style Pinot Noir. (A glass of the 2012 frankly blew me away with its uniquely spicy, subtle dark-chocolate aromas.)
It’s been a great year for grapes and this was Wayne’s biggest harvest yet—782 pounds of Pinot noir and 168 of Pinot gris. This year’s musician-powered harvest should yield 325 bottles of the red stuff and 50 of the white.
Just as some of the finest houses of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or grow their grapes on miniscule but devoutly tended plots of land, Wayne nurtures his 275-or-so vines with the same diligence and artistry he devotes to playing the viola. He says it’s hard for him to imagine not being a member of the Symphony after 40 years of playing and touring around the globe with SFS. But if and when he does retire, he thinks he might like to turn his hobby into a small-scale, boutique wine-making operation.
Sam and Barbara recently collaborated on designing a new label for Roden Wines, featuring an image of a fine old violin. Once a musician, always a musician!