It's a Grind

Picking merlot in the Oakville Station/To Kalon Vineyard

It's a grind. Another quarter ton bin of grapes is loaded onto the dumper on the sorting line. Another truck arrives and another twenty bins are added to the twenty or so already there. At our top speed it takes an hour to process two tons or eight bins. We rarely hit top speed. Best guess is another five hours to get through these bins. That's on top of the five hours already in. Then when we finish sorting there's another two hours of punch downs and cleaning. 

Its like that every day. It's a grind. Its harvest. The term "romantic" does not enter your mind: at least until it's all over. The only times when the romance of it all fills your spirit are the first day, the last day and the rest of the year. The first day it’s all about the potential, the last day you are a bit awestruck by what you have accomplished. In between it's a blur as you grind through each day. It is very simply the next bin, the next fermenter and the next day.

In the picturesque harvest in the wine magazines it's all about bountiful lunches with happy workers eating hardy meals and quaffing wine from carafes. In a real world working winery its cold cuts, colds, cold wet clothes and hot, sweaty rubber boots. Most of all you are sticky. Head to toe splashed with super-sweet grape juice, which makes you a yellow jacket's dream lunch. 

Then there is all that gleaming stainless steel equipment that looks so efficient and high tech. The reality is more like a Rube Goldberg invention as the whole process is a patchwork of things that don't play well with others. Something always seems to break at just the wrong moment, which makes winemakers the champions of jerry-rigging as equipment is forced to behave with beatings and duct tape. For a winemaker knowing how to convince everything to work in the winery is just as important as knowing when to pick. Let's just say that OSHA would not approve of many of these solutions. 

The day comes to an end with the best beer (or two) you ever tasted in your life quickly followed by an all to short, but very sound sleep. Then you wake up and do it again, and again, and again until one day the last bin arrives.

Then, as the last bunch of grapes from the last bin drops into the last fermenter the romance hits you again. Instantly harvest is once again the best and most exciting thing that happens to you every year. It is the concentrated essence of everything you believe in and the fuel that fires your flame for the next vintage. It reminds you how lucky you are to be working as hard as you can to accomplish something you love.

We finished the last bin at about 5 p.m. last night. Winemaker Jeff Keene and I shook very sticky and very tired hands. Harvest 2012 was done. 

What a grind. I can't wait until next year.