Friday dawned crisp and cold in the Russian River, where I was staying with Kenny and his family. Although Kenny had left for the winery before 6 to supervise early morning harvest-related activities, I’d been given the go-ahead to sleep in and catch up on a few emails before heading out to meet him. I wondered briefly if the folks back home would call me a fair-weather-crusher for sleeping in, then got over it: I wasn’t on payroll here, after all.
Besides, the dreary weather wasn’t exactly welcoming at the crack of dawn. It registered to me at that moment that you have to seriously love what you’re doing to work until 10, then rise again at five to head out and do more of the same – in icky weather, at that.
My next (admittedly selfish) thought: Where could I get some caffeine, STAT?
Minutes later at the coffee shack in Forrestville, the unincorporated western Sonoma County community where I was staying, I overheard the locals referring wistfully to San Francisco as “the big city.” When the girl serving my coffee asked me if my Blackberry was a calculator, it was clear that I was in wine country, deep.
Musing over how far away from “the big city” I felt at that moment, I got back into my Rav 4 and headed over the winery. At the very least, I could offer Kenny a mid-morning caffeine pick-me-up.
Back at the ranch, the results were in: To our surprise and delight, the numbers indicated we could pick Kenny’s Alexander Valley Zin the next day, and he’d decided to go ahead and green-light a picking crew to bring in his contracted Cab fruit, too. Depending on winemakers’ vineyard contracts, the picking rules vary by plot: Sometimes vineyard owners insist on employing their own harvesting crews, while others leave it up to the folks buying the fruit (like Kenny) as to how they get it off the vine.
A hands-on winemaker, Kenny wanted to pick his Zin himself, given the option. So, we spent the rest of the afternoon anticipating the next day’s harvest and handling miscellaneous crush-related activities at the winery. I watched Kenny inoculate some newly-crushed grapes (that’s adding yeast cultures to stimulate fermentation, by the way), tried my hand at punching down the “caps” on fermenting grapes in tanks, and filled some barrels.
We wrapped up around 7 and headed back to Kenny’s place to gather his family and head out to dinner. A nearby restaurant had just placed an order for some of his wine, and he’d promised to deliver it that very night. Turns out that when you’re a winemaker and your own sales force all in one, you never really get to rest. Fortunately, we were in good company and running on that special elixir of adrenaline that keeps everyone going at all hours during crush.
A little before 11, we all hit the hay.
Stay tuned for Day 3!