When I look back at 2013, the most valuable experience I had was interning at a local winery. I made lifelong friends, learned a ton about making wine and got an up close and personal introduction into biodynamic vineyards. After having followed my team in my own vineyard for a year I figured it was time to take a look organic/biodynamic vineyards and the operations inside a winery. Unlike most interns I had zero experience. I didn’t know a beaker from a graduated cylinder. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but you get the point.) I’d volunteered on a few harvests enough to fuel my passion for learning more about the process. And then I got the call. I could barely understand through the thick French accent, all I heard was to get ready, we’ll start in two weeks.
I’ve heard from most winemakers that harvest is not a time to deal with personal things in your life, or even really to pretend that they exist. You must give yourself over to the wine as this is the only thing that matters and requires your utmost attention and love. It’s true—there is a lot of work, and you want to “listen” to what the wine needs on a deep level. And, it’s not easy to let go of all the responsibilities in the rest of life.
In my personal life I was entering early 40’s and knew that it was time (if not too late) to try to have a baby. That is until I learned that my significant other had decided he didn’t want to have kids, and the doctors told me I had less than 1% chance of conceiving on my own. It was a devastating blow, and I only had a couple of weeks before harvest.
The winery was a lean operation. The winemaker, cellar master and two interns. The other intern was a gal, Veronique from France with a background in Oenology and several vintages under her belt. I was clearly in over my head. The good news was every job in the winery is important. I had to remind myself this several hundred times as I was usually scrubbing tanks while Veronique got to do more lab and quality control. But it didn’t matter, I got all kinds of experiences in winemaking and at the end of the day, we all worked our tails off….literally. (I hadn’t seen that weight on my bathroom scale since high school.)
Three major storms came through at harvest in 2013, so picking was a bit of a stop and go production. It wasn’t too bad for me because it got me back out in the vineyard to test then retest brix and cull through some of the blocks that were getting beat up from the weather and birds. But it can be a real survival issue for folks working the harvest in the field. Day labor is a thankless job, and most of these folks are shuffled around in seasonal work under a threat of deportation, abuse, and too often mistaken identity. I’ve been lucky to have a year-round team for Finnigan Hill and a good relationship with a day labor company that treats their employees pretty good. That said, migrant labor is an issue close to my heart, and I hope to find a place where I can be of some help toward a healthy future.