Helping at a local winery

Since we had a lull in the activities at WWCC E&V, I took an opportunity to work at a small local winery.  Friday morning, slightly earlier than the Monday morning vineyard harvest, I followed my Google Map to the middle of nowhere before backtracking and reading the numbers on mailboxes to find where I really needed to be.  I believe it is only ten miles from my house to this farm/winery; but it seems to be devoid of civilization: deer crossing signs, owls hunting at dusk and dawn, ‘barn’ cats prowling the brush, and insects – lots of insects!

My learning curve on Friday morning was steep since there was more new machinery and it was a different site.  We pressed Pinot Gris.  The wasps and hornets were thick on the fruit, the machines and around us.  Ugh, my normal fear of them wanted to take over, but I stuck with the task of filling the press with fruit despite them.  Spraying off the emptied bins spread the fruit across the crush pad, encouraging more winged creatures to join the party.  It was hot, sticky, noisy work.  I had to drive a propane forklift toward the end of the morning, moving bins and repositioning it in the building when finished.

When we were through I was satisfied that I had really helped, not just stood there to watch.  My shower later that day felt so very good though.

Saturday was evening hours to destem Orange Muscat grapes.  Three bins of fruit, we estimated three or a bit more hours to complete the task, with clean-up.  This fruit had arrived with honey bees, they were sluggish, but still alive quite far from their hive.  First bin out of the cellar and we had nothing but trouble: plugged must outlet, stems getting into the must, grapes being thrown from the destemmer, and the destemmer piece getting over-stuffed with stems.  I fed the machine slower, slower again, even slower until it was agonizingly slow and we still had trouble, I was stung for the first time attempting to move a cluster of grapes.  The wasps and hornets were thick, fruit flies competed with them.  Eventually, bin one was empty.

Bin number two and we were stymied why the must pump was plugging up so much.  It took separating the hose from the destemmer to pull stems from the must drain where they were going instead of out the discard end.  To finish the second bin, once we were moving again, we pushed on the destemmer piece to keep it tightly seated; success, we had narrowed the problem down.  During an animated discussion of how to secure the cylinder so it wouldn’t work its way out a bold moth landed on my juice and pulp covered hand, lapping away at the delectable treat: it tickled.

When we changed out the bins for the last time the destemmer handle was tied to the handle on the machine itself to hold it in place without room to slip.  In half the time we finished the third bin and had way less mess from it.  Lesson learned, at least on my part, to observe the situation critically to determine there is a problem before it gets to be major trouble.  We cleaned up the giant mess we had made with limited light.  Tired, covered in grape juice, skins and seeds, soaking wet from all of the clean up and the still warm night air I was happy to go home to clean up quite a bit later than I thought I would.

Sunday, as I was putting on my old clothes to leave, we had a really incredible storm.  Since my 1992 Buick Roadmaster hydroplanes, I had to wait to leave until some of the downpour had drained from the streets; there were still deep puddles on the way out.  The farm smelled summer-fresh after the rain.  It was time to press the Orange Muscat that we worked with the night before.  Three bins of fairly well macerated grapes; this time the biggest hurdle seemed to be keeping the splash of the juice heading into the press and not losing it.  As I was cleaning out the first bin I saw a very large, very black cloud with a severely flat top south of the Blue Mountains: another storm was heading our way.

Second bin was done and it was clear we were working on borrowed time.  The third bin was speedily emptied and I sprayed the grape residue from it and the stainless steel incline table, getting them put ‘away’ as we watched the wave of dust conceal the wind towers as it crested the mountains.  We closed car windows, unplugged the equipment as the wind whipped the willows along the creek, driving leaves and dust right at us.  Within minutes we were without power, truncating further efforts to press the last of the grapes.  It was dark as night at 6:30 PM, thin branches were torn from trees.  The owl was carried passed us toward the east as he flapped to stay right-side-up toward shelter.  All of the tiny, winged creatures went to ground, nothing trusted the violence of the storm.

6:30 PM Sunday evening, this is mostly dust pushed ahead of the storm.
6:30 PM Sunday evening, this is mostly dust pushed ahead of the storm.

Lightning and thunder, rain like pellets from a high-speed air gun, dust and debris flying through the air.  We didn’t have a thought for the grapes as nature blew through.

As the clouds made their way north and the wind began to flag we began to clean-up our slightly disheveled equipment.  The building now light enough to see inside again.

Pizza arrived as we cleaned.  The thrill of the storm was related with gusto as we continued to watch the lightning strikes as they moved north.  So far, 2013 crush as been full of memorable experiences.  Looking forward to more.

7:40 PM we still had sever winds, but the worst of the storm was headed north, away from us.
7:40 PM we still had sever winds, but the worst of the storm was headed north, away from us.

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