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Notre Vue

Michael Westrick
 
August 27, 2017 | Agrarian Heritage, Harvest, Winemaker Notes | Michael Westrick

Harvest - Mother Nature's ultimate challenge for Winemakers

“We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”  This classic tag line (Farmers Insurance) says it all, even for a winemaker.  Or does it ? 

I remember my first harvest as the head winemaker vividly.  Whew, I’ve finally made it!  The schooling, the internships, a position as a lab tech, then as an assistant winemaker . . . it all seemed to go on forever.  And certainly, as an assistant winemaker, I thought I knew just about everything about wine-making.  I mean, after all, it ain’t rocket science!  Or is it ?

So there I was.  My first harvest as head winemaker.  No one else telling me what to do, when to pick, how to adjust the acids, how to predict weather, what barrels to use, what yeast to use, etc., etc., etc.  Nirvana! 

And then suddenly everyone was looking to me for the answers.  When are we gonna pick?  Can we schedule a tour tomorrow on the crush pad?  What fruit is coming in?  The condenser on the cooling system just went down . . . want me to call somebody?  Do you think it is gonna rain next week?  The sugars in Block 7 are at 25.2 . . . wanna schedule that?  A grower just called . . . he has sugars at 23 and wants to pick tomorrow, OK?  We have heavy bunch rot in a Chardonnay block . . . how do you want to handle that?  The Merlot fermenter has a bit of a stink; what shall we do about that?

“I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two” all of a sudden didn’t work.  Why didn’t I “know a million things because I’d seen a million things ??”  I felt like I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.  Relatively simple things like walking a vineyard and thinking about a harvest date suddenly became seriously major decisions that I seemed unable to make.  Heat wave on the way, or rain pending, or need to pick tomorrow or we can’t get a truck for a week.  All these decisions to be made!  I thought winemakers just sat around enjoying five course lunches with their sales distributors every day! 

I made it through that first harvest in good shape.  But, man, did I have renewed respect for winemakers!  No, it’s not rocket science but there is a lot to it and there is always more to learn.  Even entering my 28th harvest in a few days, I know I’ll experience something this fall that I have never seen before.  I guess that is part of the draw in any business.  There is always more to learn, always more ideas to test out, always a better way to do things.  Which is exactly why harvest time is so exciting!  As demanding as it can be, as busy and tiring as it can be, the thrill of a new start, of new and hopefully even better wines being made . . . it’s a great time of year!

“I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.”  Yet none of us has ever seen everything and I, for one, certainly don’t know everything.  But I’m ready to tackle whatever the harvest delivers knowing we’re prepared to do the best we can and that my team is ready to face whatever Mother Nature sends our way!

Time to get back to the weather reports, check the daily sugar sample report and then head out into the vineyards and get ready to start picking!

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