Before Oregon and winemaking school, I retailed fine wine at a small shop in Jackson, WY. Here was born the dream that emboldened me to pack my things and leave one of America's most beautiful landscapes in order to go back to school. If I thought that my decision would be met with universal approval, I was wrong. The stock response in those days was a warning: "winemaking is not as romantic as you think it is." Long days and hard work were often cited as deterrents, and of course the old saying that notes "the only way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a large one."
But we all know that there are more important things than making a small fortune. The same voices who counseled warning might also agree that there is something about those maniacal sixteen-hour workdays that we all secretly love. Fatigue and the requisite acute focus lull us into a zen-like state - even as we repeatedly get wet then sticky then wet again. For a moment, everything outside of our four walls and the fruit on the crush pad feels like noise. We have no choice but to be fully present, fully connected to the people around us and fully committed to the task at hand.
One of these quintessential harvest days took place last week when I recruited a handful of good-hearted lady friends to help me with my recently picked fruit. Gamay is often made with carbonic maceration, a process in which fermentation begins on an intracellular level in an anaerobic environment. To keep the juice pure during this time, I have learned that it's essential to preserve the integrity of the berries, which means that - with the final tannin structure in mind - I prefer to destem the clusters by hand. What might take a machine less than an hour, I somehow turn into an all night affair. This year, the effort unfolded in a magical little gathering of ladies seated around endless bins of fruit with sticky hands and not one moment of silence.
It was the first day of many that I will get up early and stay up late to tend to my wine. And sure, I sometimes spend whole afternoons with wet socks, but I guarantee that when the ferment goes dry I won't be ready for it to end.
After the long days of vintage followed by many months of waiting, then the reward comes full circle when someone tastes and enjoys the final wine. Some of this encouraging bounty came to me just after harvest this year in the form of a gracious review from Matt Franco of MFW Rare Wine Ltd. in New York. Here's a link if you'd like to have a read.
If you ask me, winemaking is just as romantic as you think it is.