Friday, August 29, 2014

A Visit to Sartori Hop Farm

This past Saturday, the Sartori Hop Farm had their first open house for the public. They served up a great BBQ and a tour of their facilities. The Sartori family have been growing hops in the beautiful and mountainous area of Lindell Beach, BC (just past Cultas Lake) since 2009.

We walked through their hop farm and I counted 158 plants in one row. Times that by twelve acres of land and you have a bustling hop farm that’s in its prime just as hop shortages are being felt in the industry. The Sartori’s have a working farm with goats and cows and I understand that they sold the pigs to make way for the hop farm. They grow six varieties of hops – Centennial, Magnum, Nugget, Newport, Sterling and Willamette and from this they provide wet hops (Sept 1 – 15), dry and pelleted hops, which are all produced on their property.

No, not my hand

I asked Nick Sartori how they know when to pick as we’ve been given various advice on our own tiny little four-plant backyard hop farmette. Here’s the trade secret. Ready? Find the seed and squish it on your nail. It starts out as a liquid, as the hop matures it turns white and when it’s ready to pick, it’s a paste. I tried to find the seed on our Cascade and it was hiding but I’ll keep trying. It looked easy when Nick did it.

Harvesting is a labour intensive and time-sensitive process. It seems that the Sartori’s have it down to a science now as seven people do their entire harvest over a fifteen day period beginning September 1. Three to four rows of hops are processed each day. The bines are cut at the top, accessed by a cool home-made modified tractor/bucket contraption, and quickly taken to the processing area.


Bine chopping bucket
Their hop stripping machine is from Hallertau, Germany and it was so big, it didn’t fit in the shipping container. The monster was cut in half and re-welded at the farm.

Chris Sartori guided our tour and explained how the machine likes the moisture in the morning and to accommodate for the drier conditions in the afternoon, they added a fogger. I like the ingenuity that the Sartoris have – they keep trying to perfect their process each day, each crop. One year they lost part of their crop to aphids but still processed the hops just for practice (these didn’t go to the market).

Bines are fed from here
The hop stripping machine uses its fingers to guide the bines through while it strips the hops and leaves. The hops drop down while large fans suck in the leaves and hardly a leaf ever gets past this stage but they have someone checking before the hops continue. The hops then proceed up the conveyer to the propane fired dryer.

The monster machine in action
 
After drying, the hops are baled until ready to pellet. They have their own pelletizer and carefully monitor the moisture content. Chris commented how they don’t wish to speed up their process as you lose moisture and quality – as some of the bigger US hop producers likely do. Once pelletized, the pellets are cooled and then bagged and put in a cooler until sale.

Sterling hops pelletized
 

You can see the pride the entire Sartori family has in their hop growing and final product. It’s a labour of love, dedication and fine-tuning. It’s great to see local breweries using the Sartori hops and whereas in the past they supplied to Molson, this is no longer the case. The local craft breweries should be jumping at the chance to purchase their wet, dry and pelletized hops. I, for one, am looking forward to enjoying their hops in my beer this fall.

Bessy giving me the stink eye

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