What an amazing feeling early Thursday morning arriving at Walnut Ridge Winery in Junction City, Oregon. The security gates quietly opening upon my arrival with no fanfare or pomp and circumstance, a cool breeze blowing and the fog beginning to lift to reveal vines rich with sweet fruit waiting to be picked. It was my entry into a world I’ve seen but never experienced. Why was I there so early? The plan was to take some video and photos of the last few days of the 2016 harvest. Well, that was the plan. Things don’t always go according to plan.
I met owner, Jim McGavin at the tasting room I then followed him up the gravel road and parked near the Emma pinot noir block that was going to be picked that morning. It was pretty quiet until I heard names being called in very quick order. The counters were busy calling out the individual names of the pickers and the quantity of buckets. Pickers are paid by the bucket, so speed equals more money. It was an amazing sight to see, seven very focused pickers going up one row and down the next until the job was finished. Forklifts taking the filled crates to the pad where they’d be taken to the crush facility in Salem made the only mechanized sounds. It was so peaceful and orchestrated. Birds chirped knowing they’d get the leftovers.
I started shooting my videos and still photographs and got great shots of the sun coming over the hills peeking through the vines. Occasionally, I had to sample some of the grapes from the vines. Each block picked had a slightly different taste. It was amazing. I really felt like a kid in a candy store.
After about 20 minutes of taking photos, Jim suggested that he could use some help harvesting some of the rows. It almost felt like the pickers had missed some rows on purpose. Hmmm. now I know why. I was given instructions on how to cut the grapes properly without losing a finger. I started with ten and luckily ended up with ten. Success!
I ended up picking for a few hours. Let me tell you, this is very hard work. My back was killing me for the rest of the day. It was an amazing experience to be part of the harvest process. The regular pickers can go through a bucket in a minute or so. I think I got 10 buckets done. Speed matters.
During this process I started to think of the hard work that goes into every single bottle, the preparation and labor it takes to get the vines planted, maintained, pruned , and get the grapes picked. When you pay for a bottle of wine, you never think of what actually goes into the final product. I was thinking when I had dropped a few clusters of grapes, “do I pick them up or leave them?” Funny thing is, I picked every one of them up and put them in the bucket. I was thinking how many dropped grapes might go into a finished bottle and how much money the owner might lose if I didn’t pick them up. I treated every single grape as if it had a special place to be.
You think about everything while you’re out there. Including how darn sticky your hands and fingers get. If you ever have the chance , ask the winery owner or vineyard manager if you can come out and help during harvest. You will have a new appreciation for the very hard work that goes into every single bottle.
I hoist my glass to every winery owner and say CHEERS for a job well done.