The call arrived: the high summer heat had ripened the fruit early, and we were urgently requested to assist in the annual harvest of our cousin’s syrah grapes. As a small wine crafter, and a hobbyist rather than a professional, hired help is simply not an option; this not from financial circumstances but rather availability, as every wine hand in the valley and even quite beyond its limits were engaged at the larger commercial operations.
We arrived early this morning, when the fog was peeling itself off the local hillsides. Down in the small Alexander Valley, the damp rose from our breaths and we all wore light jackets and jeans against the pleasant chilliness.
As my shoulder ailed, I was assigned the duty of ensuring that the canine guests were provided for and cajoled into good
behavior, and (bleh) this included cleaning up doggy poops. I sat the dogs down and told them one apiece, and after that you have to clean up after yourselves! to which all gladly assented before running off to chase imaginary jack rabbits.
Various ladies and gents were already prepared for the manual labor, armed with canvas gloves and the scythe-like harvest knife crafted for efficiently slicing through the thin but tough bunch stem. My husband joined in without hesitation, and was soon wheeling bins loaded with gorgeous deep purple fruit to the crushing station. Great bins of stems were dumped into the green recycle bin, but I forgot to ask whether these could also be added to one’s compost bin as my own needs a topping off before I next turn it.
Once crushed, the juice and most of the skin was pumped into the stainless steel vat, where it will ferment for about a week. In the meantime, the 2006 harvest results will be bottled and distributed to those who assisted that year. I regret that we did not, as I had developed a bad cold the night before we were scheduled to participate.
After cleaning all of the bins and machinery, we feasted. My husband and a friend assembled pizzas which were baked in the outdoor pizza oven (including a surprisingly delicious fig pizza, made with fig compote rather than traditional pizza sauce, then topped with fresh figs and basil), while the hosts loaded tables with olives, cheese, pastas, salads and breads.
And, of course, a separate table was spread with a selection of the 2003, 2004 and 2005 harvest results. We had a lovely tasting, and soon brought out an assortment of desserts including lady fingers, brownies, a banana cake and a delicious peach cobbler from peaches harvested that morning.
The lay of this valley is spectacular, and the parcel on which we labored is a sweet five acre lot with four outbuildings: a garage, the winery, an office, and a funky old cinderblock poolhouse. Our cousin and his wife maintain extensive gardens in
addition to the small vineyard in which they grow ornamentals, fruits and vegetables. Our dog Sadie was quite interested in the veggie harvest results.
I have no idea how they do it. I am tired when I come home from work, and it’s nearly miraculous that I remember to water the few potted plants I’ve recently collected around my back deck. But perhaps they do this by leaving the general maintenance chores to their gardener so that they can enjoy the fun tasks themselves.
Our cousin is retired, but his wife owns an architectural firm. Her business is in San Francisco, but she frequently works from her home office. The architectural style on this property is 1950’s ranch, so in keeping with this she has painted everything a
cheery yellow – though today she told me that she is ready to remodel. She mentioned she frequently wakes up in the middle of the night and sketches ideas; it will be fun to see what this creative and energetic woman designs for her own living space, having seen some samples of the corporate and posh private living spaces she has developed for others.
There was one cloud on the day: due to Brit‘s illness, neither he nor Amber were able to join us as planned. There is an unfortunate virus making the rounds in the office where Brit and I work, so I fear he has succumbed. As for me, I will be drinking lots of tea and thinking healthy thoughts in an effort to thwart the viral beast.