We Begin Picking Grapes

Posted By Don Sumner on Sep 15, 2014 |

The alarm never wakes us on mornings that we are scheduled to pick Pinot Noir. Brain’s just seems to know the alarm will soon start chirping.

It’s just after 5:00 am. Showers would be ludicrous on a day like this, so we slip into some “clean” picking clothes and are riding a picking bin pulled behind a tractor within a half-hour of rising, having hastily gulped large amounts of strong coffee and grabbed something from the refrigerator. Last night’s pizza, anyone? Breakfast of champions.

We cut the tomato-twine that holds the bird nets tightly on the vine trellising, and the nets are pulled up on one side to expose the black, ripe clusters of Pinot. It’s still pitch dark and some in the crew use flash lights, while others fumble as best as they can in the pre-dawn. By 6:30 there’s enough gray light penetrating the day to begin picking in earnest. Mornings are usually cool, but by the time we’ve wrangled nets for an hour, we’ve started to get warm.

With the nets lifted and the day brightening, thin harvesting shears come out and the clusters are cut individually and placed in a 5-gallon white-plastic bucket. About ten workers pick while one or two exchange full buckets for empty ones, emptying the clusters into white-plastic picking bins that are towed behind the narrow John Deere tractor. About 40 to 50 full buckets are required to fill a picking bin. When both bins on the trailer are full, the pickers get a quick break while we remove the bins with a forklift and put empty bins in their place. The tractor rides back into the field and the black clusters begin falling into buckets again.

A good picker can cut an entire ton of wine grapes in an eight-hour workday, but we like to pick for only 4-6 hours to make sure the fruit is taken out of the field cool. After a six-hour pick you might imagine that one’s back, neck, legs and arms are sore. It’s not true. It usually takes an entire day to feel the full effect of hard field labor. But by that time we’re back in the field anyway. It’s a great workout, and more productive than going to a gym.

By 11:00 we are usually nearing completion of picking—by noon we have been picking more than 6 hours. Then the fruit has to be delivered, and in the case of our wines, processed through a crusher. This adds another 4-8 hours of intense labor, and then the cleanup of the winery begins.

There’s nothing like a shower after an entire day of picking and processing Pinot Noir. The must (crushed grapes and juice) is in our hair, under our fingernails, in our wounds, our eyes, our ears.

Bedtime. Enjoying the burn and the wonderful feeling of being clean and exhausted. A few days of this and it will be over. The grapes will be picked, the wine will be in barrels, and it will be time to start thinking about next year.