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Love, Hate Relationship with Harvest

So harvest is supposed to be the blessed time of year when your hardwork comes to fruition and you “reap” your rewards.  And for the most part, that is true.  But with the blessings comes a great deal of stress, more than stress; even torture.  Let’s start with determining when to pick.  With grapes you want the longest hang time possible, but you gamble against rain and birds.  You want the sugars to be in the range of 21-23 brix and acid high.  If you lose the gamble to rain, the grapes get diluted and the sugars drop.  If you lose the gamble to birds, you lose your fruit.  The best prevention against birds is netting which is expensive and labor intensive and makes it difficult to get in to the vineyard for spraying.

In our case, we also gamble with finding a picking crew.  Since we don’t have a dedicated crew managing the vineyard all year, we are at the bottom of the totem pole for getting a borrowed crew from another vineyard.  We also gamble with when to stop spraying.  If harvest is around the corner and you have netted, you stop spraying and risk mildew if you don’t pick soon.

So how did our gambles pay off this year.  First, we did not start picking several weeks ago when other vineyards did because rain was coming in.  We didn’t lose that one.  The sugars dropped slightly but we got a small warming spell that raised them back up.  The birds did start to come in but we got most of the Pinot noir vineyard netted in time so we were okay with that one.  But our third-leaf Syrah vineyard which had enough grapes for at least our wine club lost that gamble.  Over night, the birds devoured every Syrah grape.  I cried.  My belief is that because the Syrah vines are so young, they didn’t have much leaf canopy and the grapes were very exposed; prime pickings for the birds.

The Schonberger grapes were ready, so we went and picked those and the fruit was good and plentiful; thus the love part of harvest.  Now, we’re ready to get moving on the rest.  Tried to get a crew for Sunday via our full-time vineyard staff member.  No luck.  So we went to our most reliable borrowed crew and scheduled picking for Wednesday.  One of our lead processing staff caught a Man cold and we all know there is nothing worse than a Man cold, so I had to help move the stainless steel trough preparing for processing of the reds.  Nevermind the two bad shoulders.  Punching crew was all set Wednesday morning at 7.  Crew chief calls and says they won’t be there until 10.  RJ takes the punch crew out to breakfast, “a staff meeting”.  More love/hate.  Picking crew never shows; promises for Thursday.   At this point, RJ says to me that he gambled wrong with waiting and trying to get more hang time.  He is really hurting.  More hate.

Picking crew shows up at 7 on Thursday.  Still short one helper because of the “Man Cold,” but made due.  The fruit comes in off the Gaston vineyard and there is 2-3 times the fruit expected.  Love?   RJ realizes he will not have enough fermintation bins (or barrels for that matter, but will deal with that later).  He contacts the local winery supply business.  They have 2 and he snaps them up knowing that still will not be enough.

Picking crew shows up at 7 on Friday.  It is not even daylight.  I have to fill-in due to the Man Cold.  After even a half hour, my hands are frozen, my lower pant legs are soaked, my boots are caked with mud, my coat is soaked and my hair is sticky from taking my hood on and off.  The punches get sticky and the cards get wet making it difficult to make a clean punch especially with frozen hands.  Hate.  But the fruit looks fantastic and there is lots of it.  Love.  There is a little mildew because of the gamble on stopping spray but not enough to hurt the end result.

We finish the Pinot noir in Gaston and move to the Forest Grove vineyard.  I immediately call RJ for more picking bins even though we brought two more with us.  He brings 3 more just in time and hurries to get 2-3 more.  There are only 2 left.  In this densely planted vineyard, the most grapes we have ever gotten was 2-1/2 tons.  We left fruit on the vine when we ran out of picking bins and still got nearly 7 tons.  Love!

By this time, RJ is already exhausted and we still have all the whites to process.  More on that when it’s been done.

 

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