Last month, we ran a feature that focused on World Sake Day, which really is a celebration of kicking off the harvest season of sake in Japan. This month we're focused on the harvest of Pinot Noir and took some time to chat with Zidanelia Arcidiacono who is the Assistant Winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer. You may also know of her from her previous position at Little Black Dress Wines. We wanted to know about her start in the industry, what takes place during harvest season, why it's such a hectic time of year and how she takes time for herself.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us about when you knew you wanted to be a winemaker?
ZIDANELIA ARCIDIACONO: I was born in Texas, but when I was 3, my family moved to Mendoza, Argentina, a known wine region. I loved hearing from winemakers about their stories and how passionate they were. As a teen, I knew I wanted to be in a career that allowed me to be creative as well as to be scientific! In Mendoza, I got to meet people in the wine industry and saw that they enjoyed their work. It was like a lifestyle and not a job.
AM: Can you share your journey into the wine business?
ZA: I began my career by working in the lab at Bodega Cruz de Piedra while attending university in Mendoza. I earned my bachelor’s in Enology and traveled to the south of France to the Cave cooperative Les Vignerons du Pays d’Enserune, working in their cellar for harvest. I decided that I wanted to travel and work in California and after some time applying, came to Sonoma-Cutrer, where I was hired as an Enologist for that season’s harvest. I love this region and although after a time, I moved on to the same position at Fetzer winery. In time, I became the Winemaker for Fetzer Reserve Wines and Little Black Dress within a few years. Coming back to where it started, my knowledge of making reserve wines allows me to create Sonoma-Cutrer’s Pinot Noirs.
AM: Can you take our readers through a quick process of how Pinot Noir at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards is created?
ZA: The harvest is the craziest time of year that has a lot of intensive work. For Pinot Noir, we begin in late Aug and are completed by the end of September/early October. We analyze and taste the grapes and when we feel the flavor is right and it has reached it’s peak, we bring in our crew to pick which is at 2am and continues until the early morning so that it can still be obtained while cool. The process involves handpicking the grapes so that we can get the juice. They are placed in tanks and we have about 50 that I taste, professionally of course. After production, the rewarding part of the critical harvest season is that within these weeks, we have been able to create great varietals in this process and ultimately, being able to see how others enjoy this work.
Once the fruit is brought to the winery, we chill it further in our cooling tunnels. These tunnels are the only ones of their kind and are essentially a blast chiller that has the ability to bring the temperature of the grapes down to 50˚in 45 minutes. Having our fruit cool helps it retain its flavor, avoid harsh extractiveness and reduces the potential for oxidation during processing.
Still touched only once, the cool fruit travels to the sorting tables where the clusters are hand – not machine – sorted. This is a highly, labor-intensive step in the process but it ensures that only the grapes of the highest quality make it to the press. Once the grapes fill the press, it slowly and gen- tly crushes them helping us avoid extracting bitter tannins. The cool, golden-free run juice from the press is sent to tanks where it is allowed to settle for 24 hours. After racking, yeast is then added to the tanks before the juice is sent to French oak barrels to complete the fermentation and maturation of the wine.
AM: Do you have any suggestions on what types of wines people should be drinking this fall/winter?
ZA: I never like to tell people what they should or shouldn’t drink. I can say what I like to drink! I always feel bad when people come to me and they are nervous to tell me that they like to drink a Chardonnay with a steak! I love having pizza and wine which is a great combination. If that’s what you like to do, you should do it without question! There are so many great varietals and it is all about what you enjoy! Enjoying wine is about a memorable moment and who you share it with.
AM: When is the best time of year to visit?
ZA: I don't want to be selfish, but the the best time of year is the harvest! People are able to come and enjoy the vineyard as well as to find out why and how we do what we do. I love when we talk to children letting them know how we make these juices and that it’s science and chemistry that makes this all happen. They are always amazed at that!
AM: With such an attention to detail and varied facets of your work? How do you take time for yourself to stay balanced?
ZA: I’m pleased that I love what I do. I didn’t want to work a job where I felt happy that I could take a break. I love wine and even when I’m not working, if you ask me about it, I love being able to tell others about. I enjoy drinking it. Of course, I love spending time with my friends and family as well as they are important.
Read more from the Oct Issue of Athleisure Mag and see Talking Harvest at Sonoma Cutrer with Winemaker Zidanelia Arcidiacono.