Since visiting WunderRosa Winery, I have been interested in experiencing harvesting first-hand. My intention was to help out at WunderRosa, but as harvest season began to peak, I started to worry that I would miss out if I didn't jump on the next opportunity that arose.
Many vineyards reach out through social networking sites when they need extra help for harvesting. Dale at WindCrest advertised his need for help several days in advance, so I quickly volunteered. The last weekend of August must have been a busy one - as the week progressed a few other vineyards also reached out. On Friday, WunderRosa contacted me about helping, but since I had already agreed to help Dale, I politely declined, asking them to please keep my contact information for next year.
Typically, vineyards only get a few days' notice when the grapes become ready. This is because they need to monitor the fruits' Brix level, which is a measurement of the grapes' sugar development. When the Brix count reaches the desired level, the grapes need to be harvested quickly,
While I usually sleep in a bit on Saturdays, I woke up at 5:30 the day of the harvest. Instantly, I was taken back to the many summers my friend Tosha and I picked sweet corn. We woke up early and were in the fields before the sun was up. The mornings were usually foggy, and the field was wet with dew and dense with mosquitoes. In an attempt to wake up, we would sometimes hit each other with corn stalks, and chat away until my mom would yell "Less talking, more picking!"
Remembering my experiences in the cornfield, I put on jeans, an old T-shirt, and most importantly, a light waterproof jacket. Sure enough, as I drove to Raymond at 6:00 am, a heavy fog clouded the country, and I knew the field would be wet.
When I arrived at WindCrest, I filled out half a page of paperwork. Pickers could choose to be paid or volunteer - I chose to be a volunteer, because I mostly just wanted the experience. Each picker was given a group number, shears, and a bucket. After a short orientation, we split into our groups and began harvesting.
Once we filled a bucket, we'd take it to the guys on the four wheelers.
Although we had been instructed in the orientation to take our time, be efficient, and essentially pick everything, many of the paid pickers took off at a run to gather the easy bunches. The paid pickers were getting paid by the bucket, so they took off and grabbed all the easy clusters to fill their buckets faster.
As a volunteer, I took my time and cleaned up after those who ran ahead. The paid pickers may have picked double and triple what I picked, but I feel that the volunteers worked harder. There were a few paid pickers who followed directions, but for the most part the volunteers did the more difficult tasks. I spent most of my time inside the vines, harvesting grapes that were more difficult to get to.
From beneath the vines.
After we had been picking for about half an hour, a rooster started crowing. At that moment, I decided I was going to have chicken for lunch - I was drenched in dew and tangled in vines before the rooster was even awake. As the morning progressed, I forgave the rooster for reminding me of my lack of sleep. It felt good to be back in the field.
Each time I was ready to dump a full bucket, I gave the WindCrest staff my group and number (mine was 2-13), so they could keep track of how many buckets we filled. The buckets had to be absolutely full, because that's how they kept track of the grape tonnage. I personally picked three and a half buckets, which amounts to about 70-75 pounds of grapes.
I did try a grape straight from the vine, and I definitely understand why Edelweiss is my favorite wine. The grapes are very sweet, much more so than any you can buy at the grocery store. I was so excited when I found out we would be picking edelweiss, and I wasn't disappointed.
Eighty-seven pickers helped with the edelweiss harvest that morning - there were hardly enough buckets to go around! Altogether, we picked a little more than 14,000 pounds of grapes.
That's more than an elephant weighs.
Because of the huge turnout, we were done by 11:00 am. I turned in my shears and bucket, peeled off my drenched jacket, and sat for a moment, feeling accomplished. I was able to chat with interesting people, learn new things, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work that goes in to every bottle of wine.
It was a grape experience.