Harvest Begins!

Posted By Don Sumner on Sep 12, 2014 |

The wine business doesn’t believe in weekends or regular vacations. Much like being a waiter or a chef, it seems that wine is made and sold during time periods usually designated for leisure. During the summer we are hard at work, while families are on their way to beach barbecues. When the weather gets hot at the end of the summer the last thing winemakers think about is heading to some mountain lake for a refreshing dip or some beer-fueled water-skiing mayhem. (Although we still dream of it…) Summer heat means the grapes are ripening quickly.

Summer temps up here are almost always in the mid 90’s, and ninety-degree heat really gets the grapevines working. Maximum photosynthesis, which turns sunlight to sugar and ripens the phenolics in grapes, occurs at 87 degrees, and the Pinot Noir will jump from 21 to 24 degrees Brix, and we can suddenly find ourselves picking grapes and making wine. Yay! Here we go!

Harvest is a chaotic time. Everyone’s trying to organize their picking crews and delivery trucks, get their equipment working, order last minute parts and materials, and get their hands on yeast and barrels.  Winemakers look like they’ve been taking part in a sleep deprivation experiment—which they have been—but they’ve also been operating heavy machinery and breathing carbon dioxide and dust. Winemaking seems to be about five percent fun, forty-five percent troubleshooting, and fifty percent cleanup. But that’s the way it should be. If you don’t look like a wreck at the end of the day, you haven’t been doing it right. This is the defining moment that separates those that thought winemaking would be glamorous, and those that realize what a monumental undertaking crush is.  You’ve got to be willing to sweat, bleed, and run until you fall face-first into a bin of fermenting must. Then you have to pull yourself out of the stickiness and continue punching the wines down—because death by asphyxiation is no excuse for slowing down on scheduled winery duties.

So what we’ll be doing is picking Pinot Noir day after day, from 6 AM to about noon, and then spent the rest of the day delivering fruit, crushing fruit, testing fruit, inoculating grapes with yeast, moving picking bins, and solving logistic problems. When the grapes have been tested at about twenty-four degrees Brix and about 3.35 pH across the board, they’ll make excellent, ripe wines.

Next week:  A day in the life of a grape picker