Ripping the Bandaid


The anticipation of harvest is always worse than harvest itself.  Every morning you wake up thinking, “am I about to make a bad decision today?”  Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but once you’ve made the decision, these are the kinds of decisions that you can’t undo.  From your pick date to your destemming/crushing choices, from the yeast type to the temperature goals (goals being the operative word here), from the punchdowns or pumpovers to the press settings and oak regimen, the lasting effects are, well, lasting.  The only mitigating factor to your stress level is that you’re too busy to do much thoughtful, detailed worrying. 

You cannot undo the drastically high pyrazine level in a too-early-pick, nor can you run a different yeast and if you’ve got amyl acetate (banana smell) from too cold a fermentation, then there you are.   

Each day is a plethora of moving parts.  If it is hotter, all of those parts move faster.  If it is sunny, they move faster.  If it rains, you re-calibrate totally.  If it freezes, find the largest picking crew before everyone else “notices” that it froze- and good luck there.  From any given freeze, you’ve got about 2-3 days to pull the fruit off of the vines and the faster the better.  Unlike hail or mildew or animal damage, when it freezes, it freezes for everyone and that means labor shortage, tank shortage, fermentation room shortage as well as sleep shortage.  

You must manage temperatures and off aromas on ferments.  Yeasts need to start happy and stay that way.  Over extended macerations lead to an unwanted tannin profile.  Pressing the wrong way can do the same.    

This is my 18th harvest.  Every harvest, without fail, brings dread before it starts and joy once it does.  The adrenaline of its movement, the beautiful days and chats with vineyard managers, all culminate in something akin to a long lost sport from your youth.  Your muscles remember, your pace picks up, something feels right.  You forget the birthday parties and doc appointments, deny the mail is chance to be opened, let the voicemails pile up and get fewer haircuts and you do one thing for a very long time.  You do one very beautiful, fulfilling and exhausting thing for a very long time.