I always like to joke about hop farming being my “day job” because I work the night shift as a registered nurse in San Francisco. My experience with growing hops all started with home brewing. My mentor was both a flight nurse and a professional brewer and gave me the necessary equipment to make beer at home. After a couple of batches I began to become more interested in the ingredients and where they came from, than the final product. Just after finishing nursing school, I spent a spring day volunteering at a hop yard in Dry Creek Valley. I saw the opportunity to get back in touch with my west county agrarian roots, and the idea was born to build a hop yard on my wife’s family property in West Sebastopol.
Warm Spring Wind sits on a gently sloping, south-west facing hillside in West Sonoma County, and provides premium ingredients for beer and cider making. We believe that the source, quality, and methods involved in the growing of ingredients provide the foundation of flavor for the final product. Within the ¼ acre hop yard, we grow several varieties of hops, including a California Cluster variant that was originally planted after the gold rush and brought back from a wild plant living in a creek near Mt. Shasta. The 325 plant hop yard is hand-farmed, using sustainable methods and minimizing impacts to the land and watershed.
Even within a county that proudly boasts over 30 craft breweries, there is often still a disconnect between ingredients, their source, and the beer in the pint glass. I saw an opportunity to bring local ingredients to the craft beer scene and worked with Paul Hawley of Fogbelt Brewing Co to create the Nor Cal Hop Growers Alliance. The Alliance is non-profit group, currently with 36 members made up of hop farmers, brewers, and other industry folks. Last year the organization was able to purchase a hop picking machine that allows a 3 day harvest process to be accomplished in a couple of hours – minimizing labor costs and allowing the small scale hop farming model to be successful. Additional, local hop yards will be coming online this spring, providing more local hops for Bay Area craft brewers.