Culmination

It begins in darkness and with a settled coastal chill in the air.  This is the transition, the culmination–months of pruning, tending, dropping fruit, rearranging leaves, de-suckering, and always, always keeping a watchful (if somewhat obsessive) eye on the weather–this is when all that work comes to literal fruition.  It’s time to harvest.

As we prepare to begin our intensive look at a year in the life of wine, this is the turning point: the end of a year’s hard work, a year of mother nature’s whimsy–but it’s also the beginning.  The beginning of the alchemy of turning that fruit into wine.

Tractor and macro bins waiting to be filled with the night's Mourvedre harvest.

Tractor and macro bins waiting to be filled with the night’s Mourvedre harvest.

This is a time of immense energy and backbreaking work–long hours, odd hours.  Like this morning, which begins in the wee small overnight; the workers have been at it for a couple of hours already when I join them at 5 a.m.  It will be pitch black outside for another hour and a half, a waning crescent moon providing ornamentation but little light.  They work by the light of headlamps, and they’ve already hand-harvested almost two tons of Counoise, sitting pretty in a handful of macro bins next to the winery when I arrive.

I’m quickly off to a vineyard called Scruffy Hill on the Tablas estate, where head-trained, dry-farmed Mourvèdre is ready for harvest.

Hands making quick work of Mourvèdre cluters, lit only by headlamp

Hands making quick work of Mourvèdre clusters, lit only by headlamp

The work is quiet, save for the occasional shout, usually in Spanish, the rumble of the tractor pulling the macro bins, and one worker’s smartphone intermittently broadcasting music into the vines.

The work is skilled; the crew moves with speed and precision from vine to vine, clip-clip-clipping so fast that you wonder how they do this without lopping off a finger or three.

The work has its own rhythm; clusters drop into bins, bins move from vine to vine until full, bins are quickly walked over to the tractor and dumped into the macro bins which are fast filling with fruit.

This is the work, and it requires no more words from me:

Bins are dumped . . .

Bins are dumped . . .

and dumped . . .

and dumped . . .

and dumped . . .

and dumped . . .

and dumped, quickly filling the macro bins.

and dumped, quickly filling the macro bins.

The bins are filled just as the estate is bathed in an early pre-dawn glow, and it’s back to the winery to be processed.

Bins full of Mourvèdre at first light.

Bins full of Mourvèdre at first light.

Down the hill and back to the winery, the tractor departs with the bins of fruit.

Down the hill and back to the winery, the tractor departs with the bins of fruit.

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