I'll give it a shot now, so please read on. Enjoy the pictures too! Here's a link to my Facebook photo gallery of Harvest 2011 pictures too.
When I first arrived in Oregon, I had no job, having quit Trader Joe's to move here. I was looking for work, sending out resumes and meeting prospective employers left and right. As you can imagine, it's a stressful time, living off one's savings and all. Becky's family (who own and operate Kramer Vineyards) was great during this period, offering me a chance to help out at the winery during Harvest. Because it provided much-needed income and gave me a chance to gain valuable production-side wine experience, I jumped at the chance.
|Not so ripe, but very disease-free grapes
Only after climbing down off that press, after the last grapes of the day were crushed to juice and fed into their respective tanks, did I begin to understand what I was a part of. We often grab a bottle off the shelf, open it, and enjoy the wine as it is. Rarely do we consider how that wine got into our glass, instead living in the moment of joy that wine brings. A sense of pride, honor, and contentment paced my fatigue, lifting my spirits as I drove through the darkness back to my home. I was finally part of creating something, a beverage that does so much for us, and for me personally.
As Harvest 2011 continued, I kept learning. Simple things like putting on a hose fitting correctly, shutting off the pump as the barrel fills up, opening this valve or that valve at the right time, and how to ignore those Yellow Jackets. Kim and Keith (Kim's dad, winemaker, viticulturalist, farmer) taught me more about wine; what goes into a press, a vat, a fermenter, a tank, a barrel, and lastly, a bottle. I learned about different yeast strains, barrel treatments, how to monitor fermentation and take notes, how to punch a cap down and how to pump over that cap. Wine began to change for me, for while I could now explore wine in more detail, and while the great ones excited me more than ever, so did I lament the bad wines ever more strongly.
By all accounts, Harvest was going very well. The fruit coming in was of excellent quality, without problems like botrytis, mildew, or bunch rot. Mid-October's string of sunny, relatively warm days provided a lifeline to 2011's growing season, allowing the grapes one last burst of ripening energy. Some blocks didn't get fully ripe though, and I learned which parts of the vineyards would ripen more fully than others. Those relatively underripe grapes went into sparkling wine (which we pressed to tank on Day 1) and rosé, one of pinot noir and one of carmine. Believe me when I tell you, those wines are going to be incredible. You'll have to wait till late spring before they're released though.
Somehow I managed these days relatively injury-free, which is an achievement. The crush pad is a dangerous place, with heavy equipment moving, hard metal protruding, winery dogs lounging, and watery grape must everywhere. At night I'd read up on the adventures of other harvest interns and winemakers, journeying with them as they struggled with weather, schedules, and all sorts of details that go into 750 ml of the good stuff.
|Doing important things.
Yet the days continued, the fruit wasn't going to stop coming in just because I was full of self-righteous anger. Work needed to be done and I needed to pull my weight. After all the pinot noir was in, we turned to sorting and de-stemming the fruit. If there was ever a tedious job during Harvest, this is it. Luckily I was working the sorting table with good people, helping pass the time much quicker. The fruit quality was excellent, lots of ripe clusters, not much rot or mildew anywhere. After it passed through our table it met the de-stemmer before being unceremoniously dumped into the fermenter bins.
|This is not how you work a sorting table.
So it went, I watched and learned, asked questions, and worked. Knowledge gained that hopefully will be put to good use this coming year. That is a hint, folks. Twelve days passed with chardonnay, pinot gris, and muller-thurgau in tanks while the pinot noir sat in bins bubbling along merrily. If you ever get the chance to visit a winery after Harvest, do so, the aroma will stay with you forever. The air is tangy, perhaps from the carbon dioxide, and carries a distinct grapey smell.
Once the yeast are exhausted, it's time to load the gloppy mess into our faithful, knuckle destroying drum press. Shoveling thousands of pounds of grapes never felt so good. Actually, it doesn't feel good at all but it's a hell of a workout. That activity helped delay my nearly inevitable Portland weight gain by a month! The Harvest Diet, eat whatever the hell you want but work your ass off. The press uses barely any pressure to gently extract the juice from the grapes, and that juice is then sent to a settling tank where it rests until the day comes when we must barrel it and put those barrels into the cellar for aging.
Once the barbera was put away, Harvest was basically over. 43 tons of fruit in, all of it now resting and evolving into wines I will be proud to drink. Authenticity is a huge buzzword in the wine world right now, so I propose this: authentic wine shows grapes in their most expressive form, and authentic wines are made by small producers who are bereft of high tech tools and facilities, who labor out of passion and dedication.
Harvest 2011 was an amazing experience, the ripples of which I am still feeling.