A Map of Harvest

Tomorrow is the last day of harvest. The last day of my first harvest season. We will put all the wines that we have labored over for almost two months to barrel and to bed.

How did THAT happen? Thanksgiving Day snuck up on me like a puma, leering at me through the woods of exhaustion and has now pounced, and somehow, harvest season seems to have come to an abrupt halt.

It’s almost like it just got going. I feel like it was just yesterday I was arriving, chipper, eager, and unaware of what I was getting into, at 7am on the first day we were bringing in fruit. After working until six that evening, I was tired but thrilled, excited that the work I had sought – had driven two thousand miles across the country to be a part of – was finally, really and truly beginning. We were making wine. No, not just cleaning bins, or floors, or walls, or windows, or light fixtures, or door handles, or metal crowbars – no, we were tasting grapes, processing grapes, putting them into bins and beginning maceration, beginning fermentation. Just yesterday, it seems!

Just over nine days later, we had brought in all of our fruit. The grapes were entirely off the vine, in the tanks and in the bins, gently resting, awaiting yeast inoculation and feeding off of our devoted attention.

A week later, fermentation was in full swing. We were doing punchdowns and pulsairs three times a day, inoculating the last bins and tanks, adding chemicals and nutrients so the yeasts could happily munch some sugars and convert them to precious, sweet, life-giving alcohol. We took brix measurements every day, we watched fermentation proceed, we sampled the wines in their embryonic stage, we fell into the pots, we stained our hands black and red, we breathed the CO2 and rejoiced in its implication.

Finally, we started pressing. Slowly, bit by bit, for the last ten days we have been pressing the grapes, the macerating fruit. We have cleaned and put wine into over four hundred barrels. We, each of us individually, have dug out at least one tank (see Eight Tons, my previous entry) to be pressed and processed. We’ve spent hours in the cold Oregon rain, driving the forklift, cleaning hoses and pumps, cleaning barrels and bins, or putting wine into barrel.

And tomorrow, we will press our last tank. At some point during the day, the winemaker, cellar master, and lab tech, who have been working for roughly fifty days straight, will declare officially that “harvest is over!” and we will all head home for Thanksgiving dinner with our heads held high – for we have accomplished great things. We will walk out proudly and sorrowfully, for we are all sorry to see the season end. It is stressful, brutal, exhausting, frustrating, challenging, and, at times, prohibitively difficult to wake up that early in the morning, but the difficulty only adds to the thrill of success. At the end of the hunt, when the mammoth was dead, I imagine hunter-gatherers felt a similar sense of mixed emotion: relief, hunger, exhaustion, and a passionate sense of accomplishment, and perhaps, after an evening of rest and food, a desire to begin the chase anew.