Below is a post written by my good friend Dustin who recently spent a few months harvesting wine in Oregon.
We are all familiar with the idiom “this is when we separate the men from the boys”. Well, the harvest season in any wine producing region across the world is truly an example of the men proving that they are men, and the boys falling to pieces.
The harvest season is a time of 80-100 hour work weeks, lost relationships, sleeplessness, deliriousness, cuts, scrapes, bruises, bad backs, stitches, broken dreams, irritability and lots and lots of yelling. But still, hundreds of thousands of ambitious interns across the globe sign up to take part in the mayhem. So what is the appeal, you may ask? Being a veteran intern myself, let me take you through the normal day at the winery during the height of harvest, tell you a bit about the before and after, and hopefully, you may get an idea as to why I still partake in the insanity every year.
11pm. I finish up my 16-hour shift at the winery. Any halfway sane person would know that my best option would be to go home and go directly to bed to rest up for my shift tomorrow at 7am. There is a considerable level of exhaustion and sleep deprivation beginning to set in at this point. However, if I did that my entire life would turn into endless cycle of dragging feet, hooking up hoses and moving juice around, with cat naps every 16 or 18 hours. So, for my own sanity I head to the local bar for a couple of drinks before getting to bed.
6am. The alarm goes off. I am miserable, hungover, cold, and just wishing for another hour or two of sleep. Going with my better judgement I force myself out of bed and fix myself a decent breakfast. I step outside into the frozen tundra (or so it seems) of Dayton, Oregon, pry my frozen car door open and head to work.
7am. Most of the morning will consist of being outside sanitizing equipment with chemicals and hypothermically cold water, trying not to get frost bitten from the wind chill when driving the fork lift in circles, trying to avoid CO2 poisoning while taking measurements on fermenting tanks and looking forward to lunch. Because of the exhaustion and sleep deprivation, there is a lot of yelling and tempers flaring. For this reason one of my favorite jobs is climbing inside one of the massive 16,000 liter presses to sweep out grape skins. When inside the press I am in my own warm cocoon where no blame could possibly be set on me nor any misdirected anger sent in my direction.
12pm. After the wretched blend of overcooked pasta, mush that at some point may have been a mix of frozen vegetables, and stale rolls with margarine, the day has a turn for the better. It starts to warm up outside, moods lighten, and the end of the day just feels that much closer. There are lots of miscellaneous jobs to be done during the afternoon and evening. A good portion of it for me is spraying every single loose grape skin and seed into the drains. This is medicinal for me. It is relaxing and meditative.
When it is all said and done, whether this was my first or fifth harvest, it is an experience I will never forget. Any job held in the future could never be as difficult or exhausting. Also, 60 hours of overtime provides for a damn good paycheck. The bonds I have formed between my fellow interns is one that lasts a lifetime. Working harvests gives me opportunities to travel the world, work and get paid for it (I am heading to New Zealand in January!!). Most importantly, there is something special about being a part of something amazing like this. I am forever enshrined in a bottle of wine that hundreds of thousands pf people will drink across the world. Heck, I'll even be indirectly involved in a handful of unwanted pregnancies!
So as for me, the close of my third harvest is nearly here. As I sit writing, I consider the events of the season, and how they have played a role on my unbroken spirit. Four stitches, a fever, an infection in my finger, and endless mornings of frozen misery have not stopped me from buying my plane ticket to go work the 2012 harvest in New Zealand. While many may not be cut out for this, I can, with the most certainty, put myself in the “man” category.