Eight Tons

It’s 11:30 here; about an hour ago I woke up from a nap, completely disoriented, with no idea what day or time it was, and frantically worried that I was somehow late for work in the morning. When I regained some sense of personhood, I realized that I was not, in fact, late for work (though it did take me a minute to realize that “10:03” could only be a PM time – otherwise it would probably be at least somewhat light outside), and I had just woken up from perhaps the deepest sleep I’ve had in the last six months.

What, you ask, does this have to do with wine? Well, the reason for this Snow White-esque sleep of death is rooted in the fact that this morning at work, it was revealed to me that I was going to be cleaning out the tank we were pressing today. Tank twelve. Tank twelve has been notorious all harvest for overflowing whenever we do pulsairs (pushing air at high pressures through the grape must in order to break up the caps during fermentation) because it’s so, overwhelmingly, exhaustingly, bitterly full of grapes. Yes, my friends, they did in fact assign me, small, little, tiny (shortest harvest worker this season at Benton-Lane) to clean out the largest, fullest, most disgustingly dense tank of red wine that we have at our disposal this year. All the open-top fermenting tanks we have are the same size – but that doesn’t mean they all have the same amount of grapes in them. Most of the other tanks have between eleven and fourteen tons of grapes in them – but not Tank Twelve! Oh no! MY tank had a rousing SEVENTEEN TONS of grape must in it!

Now, seventeen tons of grape MUST isn’t all grape skins and debris that I had to shovel out. A lot of it is beautiful, fresh, delicious-smelling, still-slightly-bubbly free-run red wine. In other words, the highest quality wine that comes out of the pressing cycle. That wine gets filtered off, and the grape skins get dumped into bins to be deposited into the press. But I estimate, based on the number of bins we used to hold all the grape skins, and the height of the skins in the tank (once I actually got myself INTO the tank) that there were roughly eight tons of freshly-fermented grapes that I was tasked to shovel. Eight tons… sixteen thousand tons… I weigh roughly one hundred and ten pounds… I shoveled approximately one hundred and forty-five times my body weight in grapes today. Ho-Ly-Shit

But I’m not complaining! Oh no! GOD no! I may be exhausted beyond belief, positive that I’m feeling roughly the same deep-bone-and-muscle pain that my eighty-five year old grandfather does every morning when he wakes up, but being able to say that you shoveled one hundred and forty times your body weight in under three hours is something of an accomplishment. Being IN the tank, with all those sweetly fresh grapes, taking a moment to look around and think about how much work you’ve done and how great it will feel to see that whole tank clean and spotless, is a powerful motivation to get the job done. Besides, I went to UChicago – therefore, by definition, I’m a self-hating masochist who would sacrifice a limb for a letter of recommendation. (And yes, that is what I’m shooting for. So if you’re reading this, Chris Mazepink (in your dreams, Amira) be prepared to face the fucking question. “Am I awesome enough for you to recommend that other wineries hire me? Or did I piss you off so much that time I spilled red wine on your pretty non-stained barrels that you’re going to do everything you possibly can to keep me out of the industry for the rest of my life?”)

So no, I’m not complaining. In fact (and here maybe you need to suspend disbelief for a moment), cleaning out tanks is FUN! Ok, so maybe shoveling grape skins off the sump grate while waiting for the free run to drain and being afraid at every moment that you will overflow the sump and lose gallons of precious, precious high-quality wine isn’t so much fun. My shoulders felt like they were about to fall off after that little game. But then Mike (our cellar master) told me to strap on the harness so they could pull me out if I fainted from CO2 exposure (after showing me how to do it and letting me know he wasn’t “tryin’ to get fresh” when he fastened the straps around my arms/shoulders/boobs, I LOL’d), sanitize my boots, and gave me an oxygen meter (which will start beeping if there’s not enough O2). I boosted myself up and hopped into the tank. Not the first time I’ve ever been in a wine tank – but definitely the first time I’d been in a tank with six tons of grape skins left to shovel out. While you’re in there, covered in grape skins and grape juice, squishing them under your boots, furiously shoveling them towards the door of the tank, there is a sense that you’ve been intimately involved in the creation of this wine and are now watching little baby wine go out the door and into college. You’re so close to it – covered, in fact, from head to toe – that it might even be yours. It’s a fantastic feeling.

It took roughly an hour, I think. I lost track of time and space in there. At one point towards the end, I realized that I wasn’t able to take “breathers” anymore – every time I stopped to take a breather, I felt so tired I thought I might pass out on the spot. No, it was like a marathon. No walking, no talking, just bookin’ it towards the finish. When I finally did finish, I hopped out and almost fell over. I told Mike I thought it was nap time. If only, if only. Little did I know I’d be working two and a half hours of overtime today.

But hey, there you have it. Running the gauntlet of my first harvest season, and I have survived yet another hurdle.

After finishing, I was talking to Phil, a fifty-something guy who drives the forklift a lot, and he was joshing me about being able to tell my grandkids in years to come that “back in the summer of 2010 I shoveled out an entire tank full of grapes!” and I was almost slightly offended. “AN”?!? Singular? Uno? Only one tank in my long and triumphant-to-be career as a winemaker? “No way, pal,” I said. “This is just the first of many! One isn’t good enough for me!”

Well… ok, Phil. We can make a compromise. it might be good enough for me for THIS harvest season. Tank #2 might have to wait until harvest #2. Let me tell you. My shoulders are really. F**king. Sore.