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There is no other life come September.
Alot goes into making a bottle of wine. Something that seems so easily attainable when sitting there on the shelf or printed on a wine list has actually had hours of work put into it — not only physical labor, but also the mental and emotional labor of the winemaking staff. Then there’s the farming aspect, prior to the winery even receiving the grapes, which we won’t even go into for this article. As we reach the end of the 2015 cycle and the harvest of 2016 quickly approaches, I thought I would lay out what happens this time of year.
This period of time, August to October, is what we call “crush,” or harvest. This is when all the fruit comes in. Unlike brewing or distilling, where you can bring in raw material all year, wineries really only have one shot to make their products. This time of year is crucial. Here, we make all of the picking decisions, field test weekly to see how the grapes are maturing, schedule picks with the growers, and process fruit daily. Every decision we make regarding the fruit will, in turn, affect the quality of the wine. If you start out with perfect grapes, it’s really your job to just not screw them up. However, if you start out with less-than-perfect fruit, the timing of what you do can really impact your wine quality. In both cases, the winemaker has to consider every factor. How much should you crush the fruit, and when do you make press cuts on white grapes? Are you going to add oak powder to increase structure? Did you add too much tannin? Even the temperature of the grapes when you start processing them can dramatically change the wine. All these little moving parts make a big difference in the winemaking process.
This is the most stressful time of year. We are often putting in 80 to 100 hours a week, depending on the vintage. There is no other life come September. This, of course, is hard on your family, not to mention the physical toll it takes on your body: late nights and early mornings asking yourself, “Why do I do this?” Then, just like that, it’s over, and you strangely miss it.
It is my favorite time of year, with the smells of the ferment filling the winery, seeing all the new grapes and speculating on the quality of the finished product. There is a feeling of accomplishment you get when everything is cleaned up for the day and you have turned off the last piece of equipment.
Harvest is the best time to visit a winery as well — there’s so much to see. Here, we even incorporated a lookout so that our customers can really get a good feel of working the crush pad. If you are interested in wine (or even just how things are made), get in the car in September and hit up your local winery. There is almost always something going on.