As I drive into the vineyard at dawn, I’m greeted by the crisp morning air and the delicious smell of concord grapes. The stacks and stacks of bins are patiently standing tall in anticipation of when they will be filled. This is it. It’s go time. This is the culmination of all our time and effort. Those luscious wine grapes await.
The crews arrive and are sent to the blocks that are getting picked that day. On a big day 20 tons of grapes are handpicked. Harvest is like a machine, so many moving parts all running together seamlessly. Or so we hope. We work hard to insure that things are as efficient as possible.
The wine grapes are picked into buckets and dumped into bins. Those bins are then moved to the shop bay. Each bin is inspected and weighed. The bins are stacked and placed in the cold storage room until the trucks arrive.
We grow 16 varieties of wine grapes and sell them to around 20 wineries throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is like a puzzle trying to fit the needs of each winemaker in with the time constraint of a perishable crop and the logistics of each day. The picks are scheduled and adjusted and the picking board becomes a gathering place. Last year’s picking board is consulted to compare the vintages.
In a lull between grapes coming in or waiting on a shipping truck, we must prepare for the next variety to come ripe. Samples are taken, testing sugar and ph. Those numbers are logged, winemakers are consulted and picking decisions are made.
Soon, the concord grapes will be added to this puzzle. The dates and times will be given to us based on the needs of the warehouse. The grape machine will be working hard collecting those plump berries and dumping them into gondolas which are then dumped into the trailers to be hauled to the plant to turn into juice and jelly.
A variety of trucks, ranging from a pickup truck to a U-Haul to a semi-tractor trailer arrive at scheduled times throughout the day. The wine grapes are loaded and sent away onto the next stage of the process of going from vines to wines.
At the end of the day, we breathe a sigh of relief and of accomplishment and look forward to starting this process over again the next day.
We treasure the relationships we have with the winemakers and are anxious to taste our fruit in their bottle. There is a great collaboration between wine grower and wine maker that goes into the final product of wine.
When the harvest comes to an end, we spend our time reflecting back. Our Patriarch, Mike Sauer sums it up best.
“In farming there is no substitute for the soil, water, and hard work. Inherently, the nature of farming brings a spiritual dimension to our efforts. There is a connection of past, present, and future generations.
For us, wine brings the soil, the site, the season, and the efforts of many people together into a single vintage. Later that vintage becomes a cherished memory of that year.”
Kelly and John Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard and their children
Thanks, Kelly for sharing your grape harvest perspective with rooted!