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Getting Hopped Up—Again

The craft beer boom brings a quiet but triumphant return to hop growing in Sonoma County

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PICK OF THE VINE

Santa Rosa's hop-harvesting pioneer, Florian Dauenhauer

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Even though large-scale hop production left Sonoma County long ago, Santa Rosa remains headquarters for the pioneering company that built the first automated hop-picking machine.

Florian Dauenhauer, who moved to Santa Rosa from Wisconsin at age 14, first conceived the machine in 1940 when workers in his hop field went on strike. Seventy-three years later, the Dauenhauer Manufacturing Company is still run by Tom Frazer, Dauenhauer's grandson, in Santa Rosa, with the business' main service and retail center located in hop-heavy Toppenish, Wash.

"Over 90 percent of the hops grown commercially in the U.S.A. use our equipment," boasts Frazer, explaining that Yakima is by far the largest hop-growing region in the United States, with Oregon's Willamette Valley and parts of Idaho hosting farms in excess of 2,000 acres. "Since the big price runup in 2008," says Frazer, "many growers have been attracted to very small-scale hop farming in nontraditional areas such as Lake County, Wisconsin, Colorado and Michigan."

Frazer has nothing but positive things to say about Sonoma County's brewing scene. "Everyone knows Vinnie and Natalie [Cilurzo] at Russian River Brewing and Tony [Magee] at Lagunitas. They truly are leaders in the craft-brewing world. It's really cool that Sonoma County and its creative residents are making such an impression on the minds of craft beer enthusiasts."

The city recognized Dauenhauer by naming a new park behind the fairgrounds Dauenhauer Park (the playground is shaped like hop kilns), on the former site of Dauenhauer's ranch. But does Dauenhauer sell any equipment in his home county, which once was such a hop-growing mecca? "There are no hops commercially grown," says Frazer, "that I'm aware of, in Sonoma County."

For the smaller operations outlined elsewhere in this issue, hops are picked by hand. But should some enterprising grower decide to bring back large-scale hop production in Sonoma County, they'll likely have to call up the Dauenhauer Manufacturing Company.

"The hop harvester is indispensable," says Frazer. "There is no way to be commercially viable without a significant level of mechanization today."—Nicolas Grizzle

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