Well, you basically pile a bunch of miscellaneous travellers together (mixed with some locals) who all have a passion for wine in some form whether it be making, learning or consuming it and give them about 8-12 weeks to turn grapes into a fermented adult juice. It’s an organized, chaotic experience.
You laugh, you cry, you get angry and frustrated. You push yourself to the limits as you have cleaned out your 11th press load for the night, for the 10th day in a row. You get a little crazy around 3 am after the 3rd week. You dance, you learn, you drink a lot of coffee and hope you brought enough food. On the night shift, you live for the sunlight. On day shift, you live for shade.
Machines break, forklifts run out of propane mid-turn, juice trays overflow and you can’t remember if you put your additions in or not. The de-stemmer has clogged, your shovel handle just broke (much like your will to live) and you’ve just been sprayed in the face with a hose. You are unbelievably sticky, your hands are a purple-black. You have been hauling the same 3-inch hose across the winery countless times. O rings don’t actually exist during harvest, they are incredibly hard to find and will break friendships. You’ve lost your spanner (wrench), you have been wearing the same clothes all week, have a rubber boot wax about mid-calf and you genuinely have no idea what day it is.
Completely addicting? Yes. One of the best experiences? Yes. Do you drink a lot of beer? Yes.
Besides all of this, harvest can generally get broken into these categories:
- Press team: People responsible for fruit receival, pressing and filling tanks with the grapes or juice along with some pre-fermentation additions.
- Cellar team: People responsible for taking the juice and turning it into wine.
- Lab: People responsible for letting the above teams know what they are doing and when.
- Winemaker(s): People responsible for all of the above.
This can get further broken down into teams such as:
- Rackings, transfers
- Pump-overs/punch downs
Every winery will operate slightly differently, sometimes you have a harvest crew of 5 – 7 or a harvest crew of 27 – 30. Sometimes you work 8 – 10 hours or 12-hours. Days, nights, days off or sometimes never. If you luck out, you will get your hands on a little bit of everything. I find this varies depending on the size of the winery. However, there is a few who will get stuck cleaning for the entirety of their harvest life and I want you to know, that without those chosen few, the wine production could not go on. Winemaking honestly is 70% cleaning and sanitization. The rest is the fun stuff you get to do in between the cycles of tank cleaning.
Overall, a harvest is one of the most fun experiences you can have. It’s the end of the grape season! If you have ever slaved away in a vineyard for a year than harvest is your celebration. It’s the end of the grape year and you’ve survived! You meet great people, you party a lot and you get to do something pretty cool.