Champagne and Caviar – The Glamour of A Winemaker During Harvest
Its 8pm on a Friday night in the middle of September. I’m sitting sipping a glass of champagne ( let’s be real – it’s my second of the night), I’ve got a face mask on, and I’m unapologetically singing loudly and out of tune to Moana on the TV. There’s a bottle of Rosé, which I made, chilling for when the bubbles run out. Life is good.
Rewind about 14 hours, and now we’re talking a totally different story. Let me introduce you to the real side of winemaking – the high stress, sticky, dirty, “I haven’t slept nearly enough to be making these kinds of decisions” side.
On this particular day, I’m headed into the winery early. We bottled a few days prior, and the truck is set to arrive to pick up the full pallets of wine cases at 7am. We are also picking fruit that day too, but no big deal – it’s nothing our amazing crew can’t handle. As I pull up the driveway, blearily rubbing sleep out of my eyes, I see that some of fruit we are scheduled to have come in to the winery is already here! Ugh, so exciting! The beautiful green Sauvignon Blanc clusters sit perched on top of each other, nestled into their picking bin like it’s a comfy blanket. The early morning dew that is lightly covering them catches the light of the rising sun, and all is magical. In that moment, nothing could be any more perfectly Insta worthy. Unfortunately, these perfect little grapes, in their perfect little bins, are perfectly blocking the door I need to access to get the wine pallets out. Challenge number 1 of the day – no worries, I take a sip of coffee, jump on the forklift, and handle it.
Fast forward several hours, and the Sauv blanc is in the press – it’s beautiful golden green juice filling the press tray and saturating the crush pad with mouth watering passion fruit and lychee aromas. We’re destemming (what we think is) the last of the Pinot noir and everyone is in high spirits. Cue the menacing music. A familiar sound echoes around us – the release of truck brakes. We look at each other in confusion – are we expecting a barrel delivery? Is the tasting room expecting a shipment of wine glasses? As I peer over the hedge that hides us from the parking lot and civilization, my heart sinks. A truck and trailer has just pulled up, and it’s loaded from top to bottom with bins of Pinot – double stacked. Here we are , just about to stop for lunch and enjoy our afternoon without a sense of rush, and now we’re faced with at least another 4 hours of processing fruit, on top of clean up, punchdowns, and analysis. I immediately regret my decision to bring salad greens and tuna for lunch, and make a mental note to always have a stash of frozen burritos in case of emergencies like this. I take another sip of my now very cold coffee, adjust my fanny pack, and text my boyfriend that I’m going to be home later than expected.
7pm rolls around. We have finally finished processing, and all the Pinot is tucked up in its fermenters, ready to embark on its next great adventure into becoming wine. I sit down at my desk for what feels like the first time today, and prepare to quickly catch up on work orders for everything we have done that day. I have grape juice all over my arms, my boots and feet are soaking wet, and, I’m not going to lie, but there’s something that feels like an earwig wriggling around in my bra. I’m exhausted, hungry, sticky, and more than ready to go home and never come back. As I sit there marinating in self pity and Pinot juice, I notice a sample container of fermenting rosé sitting on the lab counter. I pour it into a glass, take a sip, and every doubt or hesitation I have had about the wine industry melts away. This is why we do it. This is why we suffer through the long hours, the extreme work conditions, the constantly wet feet. This is why we can deal with going into social hibernation and never seeing our families and loved ones for 3 months out of the year. The awe inspiring transformation from fruit to wine is something that we are honoured and blessed to be a part of, and although every winemaker will tell you it’s a lot of hard work, it’s absolutely, positively worth it.
As I sit, back on the couch with Moana, and take a sip of rosé, I am thankful for days like the one that has just past. And am excited for all those that have yet to come.