Happy harvest season everyone! The job of a harvest intern involves many aspects of wine industry production including the not-so-pretty parts like being covered in grape juice at the end of a shift or getting chased by bees on the crush pad. Coming from a culinary background I’ve always been surrounded by people who’ve dedicated their lives to the curiosities of fermented grape juice; how to grow, cultivate, and transform grapes into an expression of the terroir and technique. The market for wine is exponentially growing, proving its capitalist potential for a supply and demand industry with some wineries, like Chateau St. Michelle based in Washington State, pumping out nearly 8 million cases of Riesling annually (just Riesling!).
On the other side of the spectrum, you have smaller, more boutique wineries, like Barnstormer Winery in New York (where I currently work), which produces about 8 thousand cases of wine annually, across the board. Less wine means fewer interns, and that one intern is me! So, let’s take a closer look at what wine production typically looks like on a smaller scale from harvesting, processing, fermentation, chemistry, and the very necessary ice-cold beer at the end of the day.
Related: Craft Wine vs Mass Market Wine
6:00-7:00 am: Farm hands and harvest workers are up and at em in the vineyards to ensure each winery gets the grapes they need for the day ahead. A lot of wineries don’t have space to grow their own vines so it’s common for wineries to buy grapes from different vineyards around the area under a specific dollar-to-ton contract. Winemakers closely monitor the grapes throughout the season, taking samples back to the lab to collect data on the sugar (Brix), pH, and acid levels to better determine when to pick.
7:00-8:00 am: Winery employees, including the interns, start their day in the cellar with a myriad of tasks that differ depending on the grape’s schedule. There is rarely a set schedule during harvest because the grapes, and the machinery used throughout the day, do things on their own time…. expect the unexpected! Some morning chores include:
1:00 pm: Fruit arrival! Anywhere from 1-10 tons of grapes arrive on our crush pad at any given time. A forklift helps us transfer the grapes that come in these giant wooden vineyard bins. The grapes get poured into a crusher/de-stemmer machine while someone guides them in using a long rake. Working bin to bin, ton by ton, we finally have our crushed red grapes and now it’s time to store the bins, re-organize the cellar, and start cleaning the machines.
4:00 pm – More punch downs, more cleaning, and a little more cleaning. Remember those wines we racked off and transferred earlier? Time to clean those tanks and make sure there are no titrates left behind.
6:00 pm – By now you are cold and soaking wet, no doubt ready for a nice cold beer. The crush pad is cleaned, floors are squeegeed, tanks and machines are ready for tomorrow, and the reds have had their last punch-down of the day. Time to head home and do it all again tomorrow!
What’s better than great wine and artisanal pizza?
The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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