Hop Head Farms

Summer 2017 has flown by…

I meant to write blog posts earlier about working with Hops as well as our very own Matt Gura (V&E, ’14), but he kept us busy! As a young farm manager, he isn’t too far removed from how it feels to be leaving school and wondering if the skills we have developed over 4 years will give us an edge over other applicants, so he knows what skills he would have liked starting out. This alone has made the internship at Hop Head Farms one of the most valuable experiences I have had. It has been the skills I’ve learned in this internship that have made me feel that I could go out into the workforce and be a strong candidate for an assistant manager position. Classwork can only take you so far in the field of Enology and Viticulture, at a certain point only experience can teach you what you need to know.

Day to Day Tasks:

Scouting for Pests, checking irrigation lines, laying out irrigation, training plants, pushing strings, fixing irrigation leaks, scouting for pests, fertigating, weeding, organizing, cost analyses of pesticide usage, mowing, drywalling (gotta love rainy weeks), planting, scouting for pests, measuring internode lengths, driving tractors, re-palleting boxes of hops, driving forklifts, scouting for pests, smelling hops, and scouting for pests!*

*(Any future hop head farm intern; read the above list and this pretty much sums up your entire summer.)

Most of these tasks are fairly self explanatory, but I’ll talk more about scouting for pests. As you may have gathered it was one of the more prominent tasks on our weekly list of things to do, but it was also one of the most important tasks that the interns were responsible for. Pest and pathogens if not monitored and controlled will overwhelm your crop faster than the blink of an eye (mild exaggeration). Downy mildew, powdery mildew, potato leaf hopper, aphids, red-spotted spider mites, hop looper, flea beetle, japanese beetles, and more all became a daily occurrence. Trying to estimate the economic injury level and how much more the yards could handle was really interesting and I was able to draw on knowledge from Grape Pest Management (which I believe I already mentioned in a previous post).


August  7, 2017 marked the beginning of harvest with Centennial. As anyone who has participated in a harvest you know that processing your product quickly and efficiently is necessary in maintaining quality. The second day of harvest was rough (as of 11/12/2017, nearly three months after I still feel it). Picking out leaves from centennial hops at 4:30am in the morning was nauseating, I came ever so close to throwing up. Now, when someone cracks open an IPA, double IPA, etc that memory comes roiling back, not an enjoyable association.

My project!

I was able to work with multispectral images to try and pinpoint problem areas within the hopyard. Using NDVI and other vegetation indices along with a healthy amount of ground scouting I attempted to discover the reason for variation between specific locations within a block of hops. Below are images from one of the farms:

Upper left being NDRE: (The normalized difference red edge index (NDRE) is a metric that can be used to analyse whether images obtained from multi-spectral image sensors contain healthy vegetation or not)

Upper right being NDVI: used to evaluate whether land has live vegetation or not.

Bottom right being DSM (digital surface model): essentially the elevation/terrain of an area.

I was able to use all of these images to go into the field and see areas that had issues, sometimes I was able to figure out what was going wrong but for the most part, the specific reason for variation remained a mystery.

Overall this was a phenomenal internship experience that I would highly suggest to anyone interested in growing a specialty crop!

Posted in Connor Roberson | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Month 1 Hop Head Farms LLC

I have been working at Hop Head Farms for about a month now. Of the 4 internships/harvest jobs that I have done so far (Cornell Orchards, Au Bon Climat/Qupe, Peckham’s Cider, and Bin to Bottle) this one blows them all out of the water. No offense meant to all the other internships as I learned a ton from each of them, but this internship has forced me to pull on my knowledge from Cornell, adapt it not only to a new climate but to a new crop as well. I think that stems directly from the hopyard manager being young, from the V&E program at Cornell and understands that as students who are going to enter the “real world” next year need to understand that we need to know how management runs things. With such a young management group and company there is also room for growth and improvement which everyone seems to embrace because the company is still very much in start-up phase so processes are still being smoothed out. On to what I have actually learned!

Week 1 was a lot of training. Prior to that week the plants had been trimmed to remove any premature weak growth to ensure that the bines that are trained up the string are strong and fruitful. Training involves twining 2-3 shoots (for <1 year plants) and 4-5 shoots (for >1 year plants) clockwise around a coconut fiber string that is strung at the top of the trellis and punched into the ground within several inches of the crown (the perennial section of the plant).

There has also been a lot of pest scouting. Thanks to Greg Loeb, Andrew Landers, and Wayne Wilcox for Grape Pest Management, without that course I would have absolutely no idea what I was looking for or how to go about understanding that just because insects are present doesn’t mean they have reached a level that is economically unsustainable. Potato Leaf Hoppers, aphids, two spotted spider mites are the major insect pests, powdery and downy mildew are the major pathogens that I have seen in the hop yards.




Posted in Connor Roberson | Leave a comment

First Week at Bin to Bottle

My first week at Bin to Bottle has been busy! I arrived on Monday night and was up bright and early for work on Tuesday.

Tuesday I got a quick tour of the facility and then I helped sanitize some lines in preparation for arrival of wine and whisky that needed to be moved from the tanker to a tank. Sanitation is taken very seriously here, initially it seemed excessive as Au Bon Climat and Qupe (vintage 2015) only washed water through the lines and pumps before and after moving any wine. Looking back that seems like too little is done to clean and sanitize (too little being no sanitation in this case). That being said Au Bon Climat and Qupe are their own clients. Bin to Bottle has thousands of barrels, thousands of gallons of wine that they work on for clients. If something goes wrong, they lose that client and potentially other clients who hear about it. So a four stage sanitation process (caustic, water rinse, citric acid, and phosphoric acid) is a cheap form of insurance against introduction of any unwelcome microorganisms. While we were moving the whiskey I also noticed that we were using an air pump. What’s so special about whiskey that it gets to have it’s own special pump? Well, electric pumps get a little excited at times when working with whisky (I mean who doesn’t) and when the pump sparks so does the whisky and the chemistry only gets hotter and more explosive. 128 proof alcohol and sparks can get “a little flamey” as a friend of mine once said. So unless the pump doesn’t have it’s head in the clouds and stays grounded use an air pump when dealing with high proof alcohol!

Wednesday I had the opportunity to do some barrel to barrel gravity racking.

Thursday I sampled barrels.

Friday I topped barrels. That was more exciting because while I have topped barrels before, I had never used a pressured keg and line to do it. It makes the job much faster and and cleaner. The one downside is having to use a ladder to climb up the barrels. Understandably it is a safety thing, but speed drops to a crawl when using a ladder, that’s one thing that I will have to think about in the future if I have my own winery or work for a winery. Does the speed lost versus the savings in liability balance out with the use of ladders in a barrel room? It probably tips heavily in favor of the savings in liability but I’ll still complain until I’m not working in the barrel room anymore!

Yesterday (Saturday) I went up to Robert Mondavi for a tasting. They have wonderful wine and excellent customer service. I was given business cards for an “Alan Christensen” so I spent 2 hours as Alan. It turns out when you work in the trade in Napa, people want to know where you live and how long you have been in business and all sorts of things. Lo and behold I didn’t know any of this stuff as I have spent very little time in Napa, but vague answers are always the way to go.

Interrogator: Where are you from?

Alan (played by me): Oh you know Napa.

Interrogator: Oh me too!! Where in Napa?

Alan: Not really in Napa, more south of Napa…

Interrogator: Whereabouts?


Alan quickly turns away before further questions can be answered and concentrates intensely on his wine, beads of sweat dripping down his neck…

Posted in Connor Roberson, Uncategorized | 1 Comment