In keeping with the theme of the grape harvest in Virginia, I have had the opportunity to spend many hours hunched over amidst rows and rows of Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah this past couple of weeks. Some interesting things begin happening in both the mind and body performing what seems to be such a simple task as picking grapes. Certain twitches have started in the thumb on my right hand from where it grabs and squeezes the clippers repeatedly, and hasn’t ceased twitching even days after the task has ended. This thumb may not make a full recovery for another few weeks.
At the beginning of picking season volunteers were recruited and pieced together from tasting room employees, friends of tasting room employees and of the winery, and friends of those recruited to pick grapes from elsewhere. After a few days of picking for hours on end, I realized it is less of a fun activity, and more like a marathon. No one wants to be the first to quit, but I’m sure we are all thinking about it constantly. The thought of stopping to drink water, use the bathroom, eat a snack, or just plain stop picking all together nags throughout the day. After a while, those feelings subside and the realization sets in that there is no stopping until the job is done and we are all in it for the long haul. So I ask myself, why do I continue agreeing to go back and perform this monotonous, back-straining task?
Well, I suppose the answer is simple: I am a glutton for punishment. That, and the act of doing something as wholesome as picking grapes in a bucolic landscape amidst a diverse group of people rattling poetic about anything and everything is great! It’s like living inside a captivating radio show. Listening to the stories of the others around you—whom you can’t always see through the vines but can still blindly interact with. Only, you’re actually a part of it, and it’s sometimes hard to hold conversation while trying not to cut a finger off.
The people who choose to participate in Harvest are an interesting pool of personalities. Everyone seems to gain motivation from a different source, with the same goal of simply finishing out the day’s work and moving on to the next one. Winemaking is not easy and each step (no matter how small) takes a good deal of patience and determination. Starting with something as simple sounding as the idea of picking say, eight rows of Chardonnay which seems like a very do-able task. Well…those eight rows of Chardonnay may take a group of people nine hours to complete, when the weather has been rainy and the sour rot needs to be hand-plucked from each cluster. This harvest season has been wet and the grapes have suffered, which means the pickers and the winemakers suffer, with the hopes that the wine will not.
It takes a special person to have what it takes to make wine, and I have great respect for the process, and the winemaker. In my experience, the winemaker and the vineyard manager picked grapes alongside everyone else in an effort to keep spirits high and good conversation flowing. It worked. Even after the fruit is picked, and everyone is exhausted from the sun and lack of nourishment, that is when the winemaker’s work truly begins. The grapes still need to make it into the press for the actual winemaking to begin. It may not be a pretty process, but it sure is a real one. The feeling after a long day of seeing it through is a very real one as well, which is I guess what keeps them going day after grueling day. I feel lucky to be a part of the process, even if it’s only a small part.