I moved to Oregon in September of 2004. Hard to believe that was five years ago! I was hired by Erath Vineyards and, although I took a job in sales and marketing, my intention was to get closer to the source to learn more about viticulture and/or production. I wanted to eventually land in the realm of winemaking. Five years later, I never really got into the winery or vineyard, as I had hoped. Some of my employers allowed me to dapple in some fruit sorting or other light tasks of harvest work, but I never was able to fully experience what harvest was all about.
This year, since I had a more flexible schedule in consulting, I decided it was time to work crush. In March, I had contacted my friend and colleague, Thomas Houseman, winemaker at Anne Amie Vineyards. I met his winemaking team and signed on for harvest cellar work.
I started in early September with bottling some of the 2009 wines. It was a great way to get familiar with the cellar and winemaking team. By mid-month, I was helping with organizing and numbering new barrels. By October, we were in production.
My tasks as a cellar worker ranged from sorting fruit; cleaning and sanitizing equipment and tanks (which I did a lot!); following various work orders; monitoring fermentations (and by this I mean sampling for pH, gathering Brix and temperature data); punch downs; barrel topping; and so on.
Sorting Muller Thurgau grapes..
The best part of harvest is working on a crew. I would say it’s like being on a pirate ship. A collegial pirate ship. You work very long hours doing really hard work. You plunder, and by plunder I mean you steal your crew mate’s galoshes and fill them up with water. You walk the plank over a tank to do your punchdowns. It’s exhausting and at times dangerous (you might slip on deck, which in fact, I did). You are accountable for your work and your team relies on you to pull your weight.
There is a romance about making wine. Most people imagine bringing in baskets of pretty grapes and carefully placing the fruit in a barrel or bin for beautiful women to stomp the grapes with their delicate bare feet. Okay, maybe not. But, there truly is a romantic notion about making wine. And, every person who has ever worked on a cellar crew knows that the reality of it is that you are cold, wet, dirty, physically beat and bruised, and tired. It’s not romantic at all. But, what it is – well, it’s something hard to describe. You have to work a harvest to understand.
Decked out in heavy-duty rain gear,
I’m connecting a hose to sanitize the
There is a Zen nature to doing harvest work, in the meditative repetition of tasks. When I would hose down the sorting line or do my early morning rounds of collecting samples from tanks of Pinot noir, and even when I got to do punch downs, I felt a rhythm with nature and science, with space and time. I was very content. My “real life” seemed far and distant. I had been transported to a place that clamored with the sounds of beeping forklifts, wine pump-overs and loud hip hop or new wave music. I was fed well by an incredible chef who catered to our culinary needs. I was made fun of, harassed and prodded in good fun – hence, being part of a pirate crew. I dished out as much as I could. But, mostly, I learned a great deal from the excellent people who challenged me to experience a real wine education.
This was my first harvest, my first crush, and it sure as hell won’t be my last. Arrrr!