Ever since I changed careers and got into the wine business, I’ve wanted to do a harvest. Over the years I had gotten to know a number of winegrowers, many of whom offered me the opportunity to help out, even though they already had plenty of help, and probably thought I’d screw things up or slow things down. Harvesters are usually very experienced, and very fast. When the time comes and the grapes are ready, it’s like a fire alarm has gone off, and bang — the fruit must be picked. Nature isn’t exact, so it’s hard to predict when that alarm will sound. So, if I were going to get in on the action, when and where would I go?
This year I finally decided to just jump in. I called my friend Tony Coturri, the pioneer biodynamic/organic winegrower in Glen Ellen, California. I got the “job,” and reported for duty the third week in September. The timing was perfect, as the alarm had just sounded.
I was handed a pair of shears, and before I knew it we’d loaded fifty empty boxes onto a truck and were headed off toward the Zinfandel. It didn’t seem like a huge vineyard, so I decided we could, and would, get it all done quickly.
I was so wrong.
It was hot, and there were a lot of clusters on those vines. After about four solid hours without enough water breaks, I was completely shot. We had only done about one quarter of the vineyard, far below my predictions. But apparently, seeing as how there were only three of us, it was considered a good start. I returned home that evening barely able to move. What had I been thinking?
Nevertheless, I returned the next day for more punishment. This time, however, I came armed with a large container of water. Chad Hardesty, another organic winegrower (Hardesty Cellars), showed up with four tons of chardonnay grapes, so the lesson for the day was to be on crushing and pressing. This is a long, arduous process of filling small baskets from half-ton containers, and then feeding the grapes — one basket at a time — into a portable crusher. Since we were working with whites, the crushed grapes were immediately fed, bucket by small bucket, into the press. At least there were six of us working at this point, but it still took all day, and the pressing wasn’t finished until evening.