Monday, November 5, 2012

In the Cellar

So you’ve seen the pastoral pictures of fruit on the vine, but what happens after the fruit is picked? We transition from the word “harvest” to the word “crush.” The crush season is the busiest time of the year for most wineries – bringing in the fruit that represents the entire year’s work in a few short weeks. It’s like finals – it took all year to grow exemplary fruit and now the proof will be in the pudding if you can get through this last cram session before the proverbial board exams.
Let me just toss any romantic notions out the window before I go any further. Winery work is not always (or even most often) glamorous. And if you’re working in a winery cellar during the months of September through December, expect to be cold, wet, sticky, sore and exhausted. ‘Tis the season of the “cellar rat.”
A cellar rat, if you don’t already know, is a person who toils away in the cellar. These are the people who make all those delicious wines possible. They receive the fruit at the winery, sort and de-stem it, crush and press it, pump or press the juice over the cap to extract flavor and color and then barrel it down to its intended storage vessel. Then they babysit it; stirring, topping, and generally keeping it from getting messed up all year round. If there is a manual labor job to be performed, it’s likely that these folks are doing it. A winemaker is only as good as his or her team and these are the All-Star players.
The origins of the title “cellar rat” are a bit nebulous, but I’ve got some ideas; it’s a term for someone always hanging around the cellar and who may exude a somewhat bedraggled appearance (long shaggy hair, unkempt look, stained and torn clothes perhaps mended with duct tape). For many cellar rats, the title and their stained hands are a badge of honor.
Working in a cellar is not for the faint of heart. You will get dirty. You will get wet. You will be hungry and tired. You will ache, and eventually, as harvest wears on for weeks on end without a day off, you will begin to go a bit crazy. Why would anybody torture their body with this kind of work?
It’s a labor of love. And while there’s little room for romance this time of year, there is a lot of passion. Passionate people working towards the same goal of making great wine – no matter the sacrifice, whatever it takes. We give a bit of ourselves so that each bottle is a little bit better and of course we sleep well, knowing that we gave it our all.
--Katy Long
Content Manager

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