A Glimpse Behind the Grapevine Curtain
Almost immediately after moving here last August, I visited the winery located three miles from my cottage. Look, ya girl knows the priorities for establishing oneself, okay? Not only did it turn out to be a gorgeous place with a wonderful owner and incredibly kind and welcoming employees, but the wine is seriously good. Like: award-winning good. Bonus!
Beyond my regular bottle pick up's, I've spent many a boozy afternoon and evening catching up with friends among the vines, and I've become a fixture at the vineyard's weekend live music events. And yes, this is the Wi-Fi and wine-filled haven I escaped to when my power was out!
So I suppose it's simply natural progression that I was eventually afforded an opportunity to work behind the scenes at the winery. Late this past Sunday evening, one of the employees reached out with an all hands on deck call for grape harvesters that Monday—we were about to have an epic rainstorm on Tuesday, and the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes had to be cut before then. (I learned later that this is because ripe grapes absorb too much water and the juice pressed out becomes diluted.)
Of course I was in! I arrived early the next morning and wasted no time feeling like the awkward new kid at school. The field crew was very nice and super patient with me, but let me tell you: attempting to keep up with professional grape harvesters is an incredibly humbling exercise in futility. I didn't set any records for time, but I did manage to keep all my fingers. And that, my friends, is a major win for a gal who needs every single digit to clack away on a keyboard for a living.
Before we started on a set of rows, we had to pull down the protective netting that'd been supporting the grapes during growth. Then we placed yellow crates called "lugs" at each post in every row so we could quickly grab an empty one to continue filling as we moved along. Later on, two of the field workers drove through to collect and stack filled lugs and bring them to the cooling space where they'd hang out for a day before their contents were pressed.
I was told not to fill my lug beyond the notches at the top, otherwise—when stacked—the grapes would get smushed (before they were supposed to, that is). I also learned that most of the viable grapes grow along the bottom of the vines—any clusters that appear a few feet above that section aren't ripe enough and need to be cut and discarded.
Harvesting is tough work, but it's also incredibly peaceful—it's just the sounds of the wind and birds chirping and a chorus of rhythmic snipping from adjacent rows. And yes, grape leaves also change color in the fall! I asked why there are rose bushes planted at the ends of the grapevine rows—turns out, they help monitor soil pH and bug infestations.
I learned quickly that cutting grapes is hard on your body. Massive props to the folks who do this day in and day out—it requires literal blood, sweat, and tears. You have to lean, kneel, squat, and you risk snipping a chunk (or more) out of your finger with every cut of a grape cluster. My back may never forgive me, but Louie the vineyard dog provided excellent positive reinforcement through it all—he's a tough but fair overseer.
Considering how slowly I lumbered along with my shears, I'm not sure I made much of a dent in the day's harvest, but that won't stop me from bulk-buying bottles of the winery's 2020 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay so I can proudly proclaim that I had a (literal) hand in making them!