As we wind down winemaking lane, it’s funny the things you catch yourself missing once harvest is officially over and wine tasks dwindle down to small or random things. I find myself dealing with withdrawals of daily manual tasks, of being in direct contact with the support of a living substance (meaning, wine). Daily tasks really do give people a sense of purpose, reconnecting us with our innate need to help, support, guide and truly connect with something alive outside ourselves.
I think I tried to cope with my “withdrawals” at first by assigning myself odd things to clean at the winery. It started with small areas and then expanded to cleaning or organizing whole rooms. From the sink area in the cold room, to the communal meeting table upstairs, and from the tool shelf area to the tackling of the shipping room, I kept my hands busy with cleaning and organizing things around the winery if they couldn’t be busy with supporting the wine itself. Sometimes, I got a little too invested in a task and it transformed into more of an art project.
Of course, there was and has been ongoing wine tasks to take care of, but it’s different than the day to day tending of grapes and juice that you watch over with care while temperatures rise and Brix levels fall. These tasks tend to be more sporadic, although they are just as necessary. They have included things such as manually filling, labeling, and capsuling wine, filling shipping orders and delivering them, topping barrels and adding SO2 to them, reorganizing the winery in terms of bin and barrel placement, Cleanskinning the press, and mopping the winery floor so that it is free of debris and wine residue, thereby effectively keeping VA at bay.
Other than missing the daily wine tasks, I also found myself missing the physical side of harvest work. I really grew to love my 4 mi walk to the winery each morning and then those long or intense days of punch downs and bin cleaning or barrel steaming. I miss feeling like I was starving by 11am and really looking forward to lunch; feeling like I had earned a meal for my body. But I also missed how challenged my muscles were. I remember talking to Dave mid-harvest and pondering how I could simulate some of the harvest tasks we’d experienced in order to keep working the muscles I found I never knew I had. But Dave said it best when he noted that you use muscles you didn’t know you had only during harvest. So while I might discover muscles in my back from punchdown stances or bottle capsuling, it’s apparently unusual and sometimes untraceable exercise that my body is ultimately receiving.
I’m also really going to miss our daily communal sit-down for lunch. I loved our obsession with some of the lunch places we frequented; we simply never got tired of them! I loved the playfulness of having mystery wines for lunch. I loved looking forward to eating and feeling the much-needed sustenance after several hours of intense wine work and the discussion of remaining work for that day. I loved that moment when you sat down and were finally off your feet – the feeling of letting your whole body relax and be taken in and supported by a chair. I loved days when we had unexpected (or expected) visitors sitting down with us. Ed always brought people together so naturally like family. I loved the pause in the day that breaking for lunch together allowed. I loved that we politely waited for everyone to finish their lunch before leaving the table. And I loved the days when there were few words spoken between us because the exhaustion of the day simply communicated enough.
That said, in a sense, harvest is never over, at least not for the burgeoning wine intern because you have a whole new set of questions you want answered, which can only be done by interacting with another year of winemaking. I guess that connection and drive to make wine begins even before you make your first barrel. It begins when you have your first real contact with the fruit itself because that’s when the caring for it and the listening to it, begins.
Upfront though, there are a few things on my mind that I’ll want more experience with come next year’s harvest and they are not limited to the following by any means!
- Understanding the settings on the press so that I might operate it independently with confidence
- Being tasked with filling barrels with wine
- Anticipating the setup for certain wine tasks that include pumping or siphoning via the correct washers and clamps
- Navigating more of a feel for maneuvering the forklift to assist with stacking bins or racks of barrels
- Racking wine for bottling
- And, of course more practice with Brix reading
On a personal level, I will miss the sounds and aromas that I fell in love with during harvest and how they both haunted my senses and connected me to the fruit. And, of course, what I will miss the most is working with Ed and the guys as we found our rhythm while working with the wine around us. Reflecting on Ed’s unfailing kindness and patience will certainly calm and guide me through another year of wine adventures. Never having worked for someone as caring and decent in the wine industry as Ed, I look forward to next year’s harvest when we will all hopefully work together again and maybe even partner in some new wine ventures. Until then, I’ll think of my favorite winemaker to work with through these simple words – See Ed smile. See Ed Make Wine. See Ed Smile When He Makes Wine.