By Sara Schneider, Sunset wine editor

We had way too much fun picking our Syrah grapes up on Fat Buck Ridge on Thursday, the 4th! There’s a managing editor, a food editor, a garden editor, a copy editor, a style coordinator, a recipe retester—and a wine editor—around here who are ready to quit our day jobs to tend vines and vats.

We loaded up the old Sunset van with lugs, small pruning shears, and a cooler full of cheese and bread, and wound up to Thomas Fogarty Winery. But that wasn’t the end-run. Winemaker Michael Martella led our caravan way into the Santa Cruz Mountains, where we came out onto the aforementioned ridge—a sweet, sweet knoll with sweeping views to the west, planted with Syrah that Fogarty happens to get more than $50 a bottle for (no small challenge for the sister wine we intend to make).

Our first decision: to pick from the sunny, south-facing side of the slope or the shadier, cooler section? I tried to get an opinion out of Michael about whether the warmer side produced fruitier Syrah, à la France’s southern Rhône Valley, and the cooler side leaner, more herbal qualities—maybe even blueberry flavors—as in northern Rhône Syrahs. He just laughed at my wine-writerly stab at analysis. (I have to say, though, that we walked the length of a row, eating berries all the way, and they changed noticeably with the amount of sun they’d gotten.) We chose the shady side, and took two hours to pick our 500 pounds—not a pace to earn a place on the real picking crew, but hugely satisfying.

Then, because the sun was behaving in that slanting, golden way that it does in all great fall-vineyard stories—and because Fogarty team member Anne Krolczyk had very generously laid a table and left a cooler of wine for us—we pulled out our bread and cheese and had a picnic. One of the bottles, it turned out, was the Fogarty Syrah from that very same Fat Buck Ridge—the prototype, the goal … the competition.

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