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Harvest Is Magical, But Work Is Grueling

David White

From the outside, winemaking seems romantic. Farm workers lovingly tend to their vineyards throughout the spring and summer, and then hand harvest their grapes in the early fall. Those grapes are then gently crushed — by foot, of course — and turn into wine on their own through the magic of fermentation.

We’re led to believe that winemakers simply monitor this process. They’re there to make sure the final product winds up on the dinner table, but nature takes care of virtually everything.

Wherever wine is made, harvest is a special time. But the work is exhausting. In the evenings and early mornings, vineyards are packed with laborers collecting fruit, as picking while the weather is cool protects workers from daytime heat and ensures the grapes arrive in pristine condition.

The roads are equally busy. In the mornings and evenings, trucks are filled with grapes. Throughout the day, those same trucks haul equipment and vineyard supplies. As grapes come in, they’re sorted, de-stemmed, and sorted again, as no winemaker wants leaves, spiders, or rocks to end up in her wine. With white wines, those grapes are crushed and pressed before fermentation. With reds, most of the grapes are typically left intact before they’re placed in barrels or tanks. At this point, yeast gets to work — gradually converting the sugar into alcohol and imparting a litany of new tastes and aromas. Over about two weeks, what begins as grape juice becomes wine.

The work seems endless. Harvest only lasts about six to ten weeks, depending on the grape variety. But during this period, 12- to 14-hour days are normal. Much of the work is messy and physical. Some is mind-numbingly repetitive. Many tough choices have to be made. And at every step, attention to detail is critical — one small error could result in hundreds ofgallons of lost wine.

Because of all that, the harvest is magical.