As growers would drop off their fruit, they were talking about how this has been a record producing year for them. One grower said he has 2-3 times the amount of grapes from the same vines as last year. WOW!
This year, I was able to be a participant in a full blown harvest season. Minus the actual grape picking, which I have done before, I have done it all.
We started harvest on September 16th at Oak Knoll Winery. This is the earliest harvest we have had. The benefit of having a harvest this early is that the weather is still nice as apposed to a November harvesting in the rain and cold.
If you ever thought you wanted to be a winemaker, you should do some heavy duty soul searching. It is like when a mother goes through 24 hours of hard labor, and you ask her if she will do it again by having another baby. I thought about this question a lot as I was going through the long days. See, when I got into the wine industry, I thought I wanted to make wine. Then I decided that I was a better wine reviewer, that my services that way were much better. Then after moving to the Oregon Wine Country and participating in harvest as well as working at a winery, I have decided that, YES, one day, I too want to make wine.
The making of the wine is the easy part, you know after it is barreled and you are just waiting on it to do its thing. It's the work prior to all that, that is the hard stuff.
When you arrive at 6am and process over a 50 bins of fruit in one day, which turns into a 14 hour day, you start to question yourself! Like, what the hell am I thinking?!
When processing so much white wine that you despise the winepress because you have to clean it and you are dog tired. Thanks to Ike, I never had to clean the inside of the white press. Whew!
Or when your arms hurt so bad from tilting bins over the destemmer, that you appreciate that their are grates over this hopper, so that should you fall in, you will not be destemmed yourself. Thanks to Jeff, the winemaker, he did all this tilting.
My job, well, I got to shovel stems from one bin to the next. I got to get inside the stem box when both were full and stomp them down. I got to lift bins, rinse them out and push them out of the way. Seems like a fluff job, but I will tell you it isn't. I have muscles that I didn't know I could have. My arms are still sore just to think about those extremely long days. My body hurt so bad at night, that no amount of pain cream could make it feel better! I was successful in NOT getting stung by any bees! Ike, was not so lucky, he got stung twice!
I cleaned so much that I think I became water logged. You don't realize what a mess you create with grapes skins. They are everywhere. Just when you think you have it all cleaned and are beaming with achievement, you find a pack of grape skins laughing at you in a corner you missed.
The red press, I will claim as mine. I have been the one to clean this one. Much easier because you don't have to crawl inside something. One thing is for sure, you figure out real quick how to be less messy. You find that if you move the box catching all the skins and seeds after the white press, just a little to the left, you catch it all. That flushing out hoses inside the stem box instead of on the ground, you create less mess. Ike and I figured this out and in the end, cleanups were way better.
I knew what punch downs were, they are a great Ab workout. But pump overs are arm bruisers. What's the difference? One you use a metal flat wand type thing to push down the cap on the red wines. Pump over is when you use a hose from the tank you are pumping over to bring the juice gushing out threw a hose you are holding to push down the cap. Yes, you would think this is easy, but if you are a fireman, then you know that the power coming from that hose requires a greater grip and a little more control. I did on a couple of occasions redecorate the ceiling from white to red. :)
Cleaning out a poly tank is much easier and quicker than a stainless steel tank. I did the poly tanks, for the most part. Ike and I would shovel out what we could of the stainless tanks. We would then put a fan on the top to push all the gasses out the front of the tank so that winemaker Jeff could get inside and push the rest out. Team work is what we had. We were a team of 3!
White pump overs were pretty painless. You pump all but the lees and then you filter those. That was more of moving from tank to tank and cleaning filters.
Filling barrels is pretty fun. You get to use your sense of touch because the wine filling the barrel is very deceiving as to where it is at. Can't report to many over fillings at this point.
Did I mention the amount of water and cleaning? You must like water and you MUST invest in a pair of rain boots. Your feet will appreciate it. You must also not care if you get dirty. You will go home with grape stained clothes and skin.
We are pressing the last of the reds off on Oct 23rd. This will be my last day for Harvest. I can't tell you how excited I am to try the wines we processed this year. We did Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Niagara. For the first time, winemaker Jeff is trying a White Pinot Noir. He is bringing back an oaked Chardonnay, it has been since 2008 that he made one of those.
I will be able to attest to the 2014 vintage of wines like a pro! Thank you Oak Knoll Winery, winemaker Jeff and cellar master Ike for allowing me to participate. It was an awesome experience!