Musings by Leah Jorgensen

H-ARRR-vest 2009

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.

Harvest_work_2Sorting 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
sorting line…

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!


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